It had to be Dustin Byfuglien, didn't it?
One of the most talked about players in this year's Stanley Cup tournament, the big kid from northern Minnesota may just have sunk the San Jose Sharks for good with his overtime tally to win Game 3 and give Chicago a 3-0 series lead.
How a 6-foot-3, 250-pound player can get lost in the offensive zone is anybody's guess, but that's exactly what happened on Byfuglien's score. The Hawks winger basically used Sharks defenders Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle as gunsites and went straight down the middle, catching a startled Evgeni Nabokov off guard.
But if it hadn't been Byfuglien, the hero just as easily could have been Dave Bolland, the erstwhile third-liner who has been a terrifyer of all things teal this week, shadowing Joe Thornton and almost salting away the game himself with his beautiful breakaway score midway through the third period.
Had the Hawks not been busted on a borderline icing call (and if you're Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, how do you not take a timeout on that play?) that led to Patrick Marleau's 2-2 tying goal, this game would have been finished in regulation.
Had the Hawks not taken several careless penalties in the game – several by key penalty-killers Bolland and Marian Hossa – the game probably wouldn't have been close.
Simply put, Chicago has too many ways to kill San Jose right now. Bolland and Byfuglien are far from the biggest threats in the Hawks lineup, but when offense was needed in a tight and crucial game, they stepped up. Jonathan Toews continued his mastery with two more assists, but other than a pretty stickhandling sequence eventually thwarted by Sharks D-man Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Patrick Kane didn't have a big night.
And therein lies the rub. Kane doesn't have to dazzle every night for Chicago to win. Antti Niemi was fantastic in net again, too, which never hurts. No, unfortunately, San Jose fans, this was the precursor to an ignominous sweep. This was the game the Hawks left open for the Sharks. This was the game where Duncan Keith was fallible on the Chicago blueline, where it would have been nice for San Jose to net two goals instead of one on a 5-on-3 power play.
Am I asking too much of the Sharks? Well, I'm not the one facing down the steel teeth of a motorized killing machine. At this point, Chicago may have forgotten how to lose.
To his credit, Thornton did make his presence felt in the third period with a thundering bodycheck on Andrew Ladd, but Big Joe failed to hit the scoresheet once again. Last year, with his team on the ropes in the first round, Thornton fought Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf. It was a nice gesture, but it didn't change the outcome of the game or the series. This year, the Sharks once again find their Stanley Cup dreams floating out to sea.
Whatever Thornton plans on doing for Game 4, Sharks fans have to hope it involves twine and a downcast Niemi. If not, you have to wonder if San Jose's squad even features a No. 19 next year.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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