CHICAGO - Dustin Byfuglien has emerged as a force for the Chicago Blackhawks and now he is taking his game to the highest level. He and his teammates are headed to the Stanley Cup finals.
Byfuglien scored his third go-ahead goal of the Western Conference finals, converting on a third-period power play as Chicago rallied to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-2 on Sunday and complete a four-game sweep that sent the Blackhawks to the NHL finals for the first time since 1992.
“Seems like he likes the spotlight. He likes being the hero. He steps up in big time,” teammate Patrick Sharp said. “He told me before the third period he was going to be the guy to go get it. True to his word, he got it.”
Chicago will play either Montreal or Philadelphia and be in search of its first NHL title since 1961, more than two decades before many of the current players were born.
“It’s an honor to be going to the Stanley Cup. We beat a very good team over there. It wasn’t easy,” Byfuglien said.
The 257-pound Byfuglien was parked in front of the net with 7 seconds left on the power play. He took a nice pass from Patrick Kane and knocked the puck past Evgeni Nabokov to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead at 14:05 of the final period.
“I got my stick open in front of the net, and Kaner game me a nice little feed,” Byfuglien said.
Moving Byfuglien to the top line with Kane and captain Jonathan Toews was one of coach Joel Quenneville’s best adjustments.
Kris Versteeg added an empty-net goal with 42 seconds left, and the red-clad fans at the United Center erupted, littering the ice with souvenir towels.
Byfuglien also had the game-winner Friday night in overtime as Chicago captured Game 3, 3-2. He also put the Blackhawks ahead to stay with a goal in their 2-1 victory in the opener and scored a goal in all four of the Blackhawks’ victories over the Sharks. He has eight goals in this postseason.
“When you’re playing with those two kids, the pucks are going to find you when you’re not expecting it,” Byfuglien said of being matched with Kane and Toews.
It was another disappointing ending for the Sharks, who won the conference in the regular season by a point over the Blackhawks. They outshot Chicago in three of the four games but couldn’t break through, scoring only seven goals in the series.
“There’s a level of frustration about the way we approached this whole series,” San Joe defenseman Rob Blake said. “We put ourselves in a position to be successful throughout the season and we didn’t accomplish what we needed to.”
Logan Couture scored in the first period and Patrick Marleau had a short-handed goal in the second as San Jose built 2-0 lead.
But Brent Seabrook was credited with a goal after a video replay reversed an initial on-ice ruling of no goal. Dave Bolland tied the game at 2-2 at 18:38 of the second.
The Sharks had a chance to regain the lead a minute into the final period, but a shot from the high slot by Devin Setoguchi deflected off the stick of teammate Joe Thornton and hit the crossbar.
“I’m not going to criticize the effort,” San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle said, pointing to the strong play of Chicago goalie Antti Niemi. “A combination of them playing well defensively, him playing well. The blame was on us, too. We didn’t find a way to get it through and I’m not really sure why that is.”
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Chicago Blackhawks (2) d. San Jose Sharks (1)