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Big Buff's actions speak much louder than words

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) attempts the wraparound on Vegas Golden Knights� Deryk Engelland (5) and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during third period of game one action in the NHL Western Conference Final in Winnipeg on Saturday, May 12, 2018.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) attempts the wraparound on Vegas Golden Knights� Deryk Engelland (5) and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during third period of game one action in the NHL Western Conference Final in Winnipeg on Saturday, May 12, 2018.

Dustin Byfuglien clearly wished he was anywhere else. Forced to face the biggest media scrum of the year Saturday morning, the veteran defenceman who is camera-shy at the best of times was even more succinct than usual as he stared down a barrage of questions.

“What’s it going to take to generate offence against a red-hot Marc-André Fleury?” one scribe asked.

“Get it behind him. Shoot pucks and hopefully, they go in,” Byfuglien answered.

Scintillating stuff.

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Dustin Byfuglien clearly wished he was anywhere else. Forced to face the biggest media scrum of the year Saturday morning, the veteran defenceman who is camera-shy at the best of times was even more succinct than usual as he stared down a barrage of questions.

"What’s it going to take to generate offence against a red-hot Marc-André Fleury?" one scribe asked.

"Get it behind him. Shoot pucks and hopefully, they go in," Byfuglien answered.

Scintillating stuff.

And yet, given what he’d do on the ice several hours later, right on the mark.

"That game that you saw, and he’s certainly played others, you saw a Dustin Byfuglien spectrum. He can shoot the puck a ton, he can make soft-hand plays and then he can be as big and strong as you want out there. And he’s been very consistent," head coach Paul Maurice said after Winnipeg beat Vegas 4-2 to open the Western Conference Final.

Byfuglien wasted no time welcoming the Golden Knights to town, firing a howitzer past Fleury just 65 seconds into the game Saturday night to give his team a quick 1-0 lead and bring an already electric Bell MTS Place to another level.

"It was kind of a muffin," forward Patrik Laine joked afterwards of the shot.

Byfuglien continued to loom large. He threw a number of punishing checks, as he has all playoffs, and nearly came to blows with Vegas forward Ryan Reaves at the end of the frame.

He added a second-period assist on a Mark Scheifele power-play goal. That brings him to five goals and 10 assists in 13 playoff games, which leads all blue-liners in scoring. It’s mighty impressive, considering Byfuglien only lit the lamp eight times in 69 regular-season games. That was well off his usual offensive pace.

However, it’s about so much more than numbers with the Minnesota product. Maurice has repeatedly praised Byfuglien for playing a more responsible, two-way game and helping the Jets reach new heights when it comes to overall team play.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26), right, jokes about having to play defence for Dustin Byfuglien (left) in their game against Vegas Golden Knights as they talk to media after game one in the NHL Western Conference Final in Winnipeg on Saturday, May 12, 2018.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26), right, jokes about having to play defence for Dustin Byfuglien (left) in their game against Vegas Golden Knights as they talk to media after game one in the NHL Western Conference Final in Winnipeg on Saturday, May 12, 2018.

Byfuglien is the only player on the Jets with a Stanley Cup ring, courtesy of his 2010 run with Chicago. He was traded to Atlanta the following season, which was then uprooted and moved to Winnipeg one year later.

He seems pretty determined these days to get back to the promised land.

"I think it was just, you know, overall doing the right things. Starting the game as a team, moving our feet, keeping it simple," Byfuglien said Saturday evening, after his dominant performance meant he’d have to face the cameras for the second time in the day.

"It just got across the line. Just get shots to the net early, and one happened to go in," he said of his goal.

Again, not exactly rah-rah kind of stuff. But that’s not his style. Byfuglien seems to prefer letting his play do the talking, and these days it speaks volumes of where he and his teammates want to go.

"He’s awesome, and he’s been awesome for us all playoffs. He does it all for us, he kills penalties, he’s on the power play, he does so many good things each and every shift that a lot people don’t notice. He’s key for us," Scheifele said following Saturday’s victory.

Byfuglien finished his night playing a team-high 24:44, with a goal, assist, three shots on goal, three more shot attempts and two blocked shots.

"I think he’s been playing fantastic all year long. Even when he doesn’t get points, he’s making a huge difference out there and he’s a huge factor in our success," goalie Connor Hellebuyck said.

Captain Blake Wheeler had some fun with Byfuglien on the podium following the game, noting how Byfuglien’s goal actually started with the defenceman up in the play pinching and Wheeler forced to cover and play defence. Wheeler broke up a play, then sent the puck in the other direction, ultimately drawing an assist on the goal.

"What about my skating backwards there? I can do it," Wheeler said.

Byfuglien’s impact is certainly being felt by his opponents. Both Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau and Nashville coach Peter Laviolette spent considerable time in the earlier rounds talking about trying to contain him. You can now add Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant to that list.

"Big Buff’s an impact every game he plays. He’s been doing that in the NHL for a long time. He’s a big, key player for them. He’s a strong guy, he plays a good two-way game. And, in the playoffs, he ramps it up another notch. That’s what he does," Gallant said Saturday night.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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History

Updated on Sunday, May 13, 2018 at 12:18 AM CDT: Edited

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