CHICAGO - The best way to describe the Chicago Blackhawks' Dustin Byfuglien is this: He's an enormous - and enormously talented - hockey player.
At 6-foot-4 and listed at 257 pounds (he's more like 270), Byfuglien (pronounced Buff-lin) has a propensity to throw his weight around on the ice. Hence the nickname "Big Buff."
But after the Western Conference finals, he might consider switching to "Big Game-Winner."
Byfuglien, a forward who also plays defense when needed, scored three game-winning goals in the series against the San Jose Sharks. His goal with 5 minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the third period Sunday enabled the Hawks to cap a four-game sweep of the Sharks.
"I think he certainly had a remarkable playoff, particulary the last two rounds," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
That might be an understatement.
The 25-year-old Minnesota native scored a goal in five consecutive games and has a team-high eight postseason goals and four game-winners.
"I think he creates so much space when he does get in the net," Quenneville said. "He's a hard body to move, has a decent set of hands. Physically, he can be overpowering sometimes."
Placed on the team's top line with stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Byfuglien parks himself in front of the net. That creates space for his linemates and a huge obstruction for goaltenders.
"You know, it's not like he's getting lucky or he's on a string of great games," Toews said. "He's working hard."
"I'm just doing work for the kids and finishing it up," said Byfuglien, an eighth-round pick in the 2003 draft. "I have faith in myself, and I just kept going."
Remaining in the crease might be a problem for Byfuglien in the Stanley Cup Finals. He is likely to receive a stiff reception from Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. At 6-6, 220 pounds, Pronger also has a propensity to throw his weight around. This individual matchup should be one of the series' best subplots.
"I've just got to go out there and play big, feel big," Byfuglien said. "Just having the confidence to stand there and [ward off] what they're doing to you. You've got to find an open area where your stick can get down and make sure you can get the puck."
It's unlikely that many Hawks fans imagined that Byfuglien would become an offensive force in the postseason. After all, he scored just three goals and had six assists in 17 playoff games last year.
He opened these playoffs at left wing. But as recently as Game 2 of the second round against the Vancouver Canucks, he started on defense. Then, remembering how Byfuglien frustrated Canucks goalie Roberto Loungo in last season's playoffs, Quenneville moved him back to forward.
"I think he would rather play defense," Quennville said. "But right now, today, he'll discount that and say no way."
That's because the Byfuglien-Toews-Kane line was overwhelming in the Sharks series, combining for five goals and 15 points.
"He knows playing with us that we are going to control the puck a lot," Kane said. "He's just got to get . . . in front of the net. After that, he can put them in."
One teammate said Byfuglien used some heckling as motivation.
"I think it started in the Vancouver series. All those fans were getting on his case. He wasn't popular in that building," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "Seems like he likes the spotlight. He likes being the hero. He steps up in big-time."