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Byfuglien's backside ready to welcome Luongo to town
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo saw plenty of Dustin Byfuglien of the Blackhawks in their second-round playoff series last season.

 

Associated Press file

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Published: 10/20/2009 3:51 PM

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Blackhawks game day

Vancouver Canucks at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WGN 720-AM

What to watch: In their first game against Hawks since the playoffs, the Canucks are beat up with Daniel Sedin (broken foot) and Sami Salo (back) out. Vancouver is 3-5 and winless on the road (0-4) while scoring only 14 goals.

Antti Niemi (3-0) starts in goal for the Hawks. Defenseman Brent Sopel missed Tuesday's practice for personal reasons but is available to play.

Last season: After a 2-2 split in the regular season, the Hawks eliminated the Canucks in six games in the Western Conference semifinals.

Next: Nashville Predators at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

It's probably a tossup as to what Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo hated more during last spring's Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the Blackhawks: Dustin Byfuglien's backside in his face for six games, or "Chelsea Dagger" playing every time the Hawks scored at the United Center.

Luongo heard the tune seven times during that memorable 7-5 Hawks win in Game 6 that ended Vancouver's season and left Luongo in tears afterward in the dressing room.

It has been five months since Luongo last saw big No. 33 planted in front of his face, but that's where Byfuglien plans to be again Wednesday night when the Hawks and Canucks meet at the UC for the first time since the playoffs.

"He's a good goalie and you have to do what you have to do to win the game," Byfuglien said. "I'm not going to sit there and talk to him all the time, but I'm going to be in front of him and do my job and that's the way it is."

Byfuglien was a force in the playoffs against Vancouver and Calgary, a difference-maker who finally listened to what coach Joel Quenneville had been preaching to him all year and became a dominant presence in front of the net.

Byfuglien has picked up where he left off in the playoffs with 4 goals in the Hawks' first eight games. Standing in front of the net is not Byfuglien's favorite role, but it is helping make him a star.

"It's my job now, and I guess I don't really have a choice to do it or I don't know where I'd be," Byfuglien said. "It's all right. It's growing on me. It's fun and you get to play with the good players and get better opportunities to be out there more."

Having a strong presence in front of the net is a key in Quenneville's system, and Byfuglien has quickly become one of the better players in the NHL at bothering goaltenders.

"He found a niche there and it has helped his game," Quenneville said. "Over the course of (last) year he was just going through it where he was just an ordinary player, but getting to that level where all of a sudden he was a factor in games and dominating games and being annoying for other teams and being a major distraction in front of the net, he filled that role extremely well.

"It helped him with his approach this year where we're expecting more from him."

Byfuglien doesn't deny his work in the playoffs helped motivate him for this season and likely also helped him become a candidate for the U.S. Olympic team.

"The whole playoffs was a big builder for myself and for the team," Byfuglien said.

Teammate Patrick Kane, the first star of Game 6 against the Canucks with his first pro hat trick, believes Byfuglien got into Luongo's head during that series.

There were times when Luongo could be seen jawing at Byfuglien, which is out of the ordinary for a goalie.

"Usually if you're getting into a guy's kitchen then he's going to be punching you in the head or throwing shots at you, and that's what we saw out of him last year, for sure," Kane said.

The Hawks expect to get the best from the Canucks, who are off to a 3-5 start and winless on the road in four games.

"We need to go out there with a good chip on our shoulders, knowing it's going to be a good hard battle, and match their effort," Byfuglien said.

"They're probably going to show us that they deserved to win that series," Kane said. "We have to prove ourselves again."