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Opponents have yet to find answer for 'Buff'

05/25/2010 9:37 PM

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CHICAGO -- No matter what opponents have tried, nothing has kept Blackhawks power forward Dustin Byfuglien from making life miserable for goalies during the playoffs.
They've tried using muscle to move him from in front of the net. They've tried to box him out. They've tried to lift his stick. The results?
Byfuglien enters the 2010 Stanley Cup Final leading the Hawks in goals with eight -- including game-winners in three of the four games it took Chicago to sweep San Jose in the Western Conference Finals.
So how should Philadelphia approach the Byfuglien issue?
Don't ask his teammates. They don't know, either -- especially now that "Big Buff" is teamed on the top line with young stars
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane -- which could be nicknamed the "Pick your poison" line. That trio plus Chicago's secondary scorers --  Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg -- could keep the Flyers defensemen and goalie Michael Leighton constantly on red alert.
"I'm not (Flyers coach) Peter Laviolette, but I wouldn't even know where to begin when you look at some of the things that are going on with our team," Hawks center
John Madden said after Tuesday's practice. "If you spend too much (time on) Buff, you've got Johnny and Kaner. And then Bolly is playing well, Sharpie … we've got guys who can step in if you pay too much attention to one guy."
It's just that the one guy, Byfuglien, is skating roughshod over opponents, using his massive 6-foot-4, 257-pound frame to screen goalies and get position for point-blank re-directions. Vancouver and San Jose both tried unsuccessfully to combat his size with their own size and strength, but that caused an even bigger screen effect.
Plus, actually moving Byfuglien is usually an exercise in futility.
"In today's rules, you can't do the whole cross check and move a guy," 6-foot-3, 230-pound San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray said prior to Game 4 of the conference finals. "You've just got to be ready to get under his stick and go after the rebounds."
That's why retired star forward Brendan Shanahan suggested the Flyers use a different tactic, while appearing on Versus' "The Daily Line" on Monday night. Shanahan suggested that Philly use 5-foot-10, 194-pound Kimmo Timonen against Byfuglien rather than 6-6, 230-pound Chris Pronger.
The reasons: Speed and quickness over size.
Shanahan compared the strategy to something he saw former Detroit coach Scotty Bowman use successfully for the Red Wings. Shanahan said Bowman, now a Chicago vice president for hockey operations, used Niklas Lidstrom during the 1997 Final to counter Philadelphia's Eric Lindros and the Flyers' other big bodies, rather than the bigger, stronger Vladimir Konstantinov.
Yet, when asked about Timonen getting the Byfuglien assignment, the Hawks didn't think it would happen.
"I don't think they'll change anything," Byfuglien said. "I think they'll just keep with their game plan. If they're going to focus on me, then we've got Kane and Toews out there, too."
Kane said he's looking forward to watching Byfuglien throw his weight around against the Flyers' big men.
"I think Pronger and Buff will be seeing a lot of each other, so it should be a good matchup," he said. "Two big guys going at it. If you put Buff in front of the net, I don't think anyone's going to move him. He's so big and strong that he can just stand there all day. When he does that, he's really effective and has been effective throughout the last two series."
Kane said Vancouver and San Jose tried different ways to negate Byfuglien, with neither plan working. However, it should also be noted that both tried to use their biggest guys to no avail.
"San Jose kind of played man-on-man, where the defenseman would kind of chase you all the way out to the blue line, and I think we used that to our advantage a couple of times," he said. "You just kind of skate up and get a puck at the net, and they didn't have a D-man in front. Against Vancouver, they played more of a zone where we kind of had to move the puck around. With Philly, we don't really know what to expect yet."
As for what he thinks would be most effective against "Big Buff?"
"I don't really know," Kane said. "I guess no one's really had an answer for him yet in the last two series. That's the way we want it. If it's Pronger or one of their big guys on him, it's probably good for (me) and Toews, because it probably opens up some space for us."