Three games in, here’s a three-storyline look at the Canucks-Blackhawks second round playoff series:
Roberto Luongo vs. Dustin Byfuglien
So far, this is the story of the series. Byfuglien, a big, young winger who has steadily improved over the past few seasons, has a simple task: Plant his 250-pound frame right in front of Luongo and do whatever it takes to knock the Canucks goalie off his game.
The strategy worked well in Games 1 and 2 and was employed in Chicago’s lone goal in Game 3. It’s obvious Byfuglien is getting to Luongo a bit; the Vancouver netminder has responded verbally and physically, usually with some choice words or a cheerful blocker to the face.
Apart from shooting a lot – a lot – and looking for rebounds, the Hawks know they need to shake up Luongo to have a chance. The ploy is keeping Willie Mitchell pretty busy, too, as the Canucks defenseman has taken it upon himself to clear out any Byfuglien that are grazing too close to Luongo.
Quietly and effectively, the young Swedish blueliner has provided steady, capable play. Plus, he had seven points in the first seven playoff games, including four power play points, tied for most on the team.
Put another way, he’s one point behind team-leading countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin and three points ahead of groin-addled countryman Mats Sundin. With Sami Salo – who also has provided clutch, timely scoring – battling an injury, Edler’s contributions are key.
OK, he’s only got one goal. And, yes, he’s only taken five shots in seven contests. But Wellwood has ramped up his game, playing with more jump and less fear and skating into the danger zone in front of Chicago’s crease.
He’s driven to the net with authority and regularity, he sets up linemates for great chances, he backchecks, he’s even thrown a few bodychecks. And he has coach Alain Vigneault’s trust now, too; Wellwood has taken the third-most faceoffs in the playoffs on the team and he was even cast in a defensive role in some games.
Surely, that’s alien territory for the offensively gifted Wellwood – but he did the job, did it well, and has been rewarded with ice time at critical moments.
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