05/22/2010 12:08 PM
- From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)
CHICAGO -- Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita celebrated his 70th birthday on Thursday, then had another celebration Friday night at the United Center for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
Along with fellow Hawks legends Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito, the man known as "Stosh" watched from a suite high above the ice as young star Jonathan Toews broke his team record for most consecutive playoff games with at least a point (12).
Mikita, who had "Happy Birthday" sung to him by the crowd while birthday wishes were displayed on the big screen, set the mark in 1962 with 11 straight games with at least a point.
"It's been special to have them around for regular-season games, (and) for them to be here when it matters most," Toews said of the legendary trio. "I think it means just as much to them as if they were still lacing 'em up in the locker room and playing. They're behind us every step of the way. You know, we're trying to do our best to not let them down."
It's also special for Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who grew up a Blackhawks fan despite living in Windsor, Ontario -- which is located just across the Detroit River.
"It's nice," Quenneville said. "These guys really make you feel the tradition here is genuine. It's an amazing history, and it goes back to the glory days here. These guys really are the face of the franchise. I think growing up, personally, Bobby was always my idol. Seeing these guys around the rink, I'm sure it means a lot to the young guys, as well."
'Big Buff' still turning heads -- Kris Versteeg couldn't help but chuckle after he was asked how good massive Hawks forward Dustin Byfuglien could be during a season if he played this well more consistently.
"Good question," he said, laughing. "You tell me. It's good to see him come through and play hard. That's what we need from him. In order for him to be successful, he's got to keep playing hard every night."
So far, Byfuglien has done it in the playoffs, giving the Hawks an immovable object in front of opposing goaltenders on the same line as puck demons Toews and Patrick Kane. Byfuglien, who even filled in at the blue line for a month for Brian Campbell, is now a constant presence up front.
After scoring seven playoff goals in the Hawks' run to the doorstep of the Cup Finals -- including the overtime winner in Game 3 -- people are again wondering about Byfuglien's regular-season potential.
"I think consistency is probably the best way for him to get to that level, where his production is going to be in place game in, game out," Quenneville said. "I think that's the next challenge. He certainly does that in the playoffs, (and) has the last couple playoffs. When he puts the whole package together, it's quite an asset to have."
Wise beyond their years -- San Jose players were asked on Saturday what, if anything, has surprised them about the Blackhawks.
Most said nothing, but defenseman Doug Murray remarked that the Hawks seem more mature as players than what he'd expected given their overall youth.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan agreed. He credited Quenneville's leadership, but also said the Hawks losing to Detroit in the Western Conference Finals a year ago was a great learning lesson for them.
"They've been through what we're going through right now last year against Detroit," he said. "That experience that they've gained, I'm sure they're using right now. The leadership group might be a little bit younger than on some other teams, but they've won championships, played in gold medal games, (and played) under those pressure-type situations."
Bad 'puck luck' for Sharks -- Murray just shook his head when he thought back to a goal scored on a breakaway by Hawks third-line center Dave Bolland in Game 3, which put Chicago up 2-1 late in the third.
Bolland had just gotten out of the penalty box 30 seconds earlier when a San Jose shot blocked by Toews ricocheted perfectly to him in the neutral zone. It slid behind Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle and hit Bolland in stride for a breakaway chance that he put past Evgeni Nabokov with some fancy stick work.
Murray was on the ice, but wasn't able to catch Bolland.
"Usually you can recover from that, but this was blocked and it bounces out perfect right behind (Boyle)," he said. "Normally, even if it gets blocked and Boyle gets beat, I see it develop and I can back him up. This one bounced right out behind him and right into the skating stride of Bolland. It's a very unfortunate play the way it happened."
He said the Sharks have had a number of those bad bounces in the series.
"Me and Boyle talked about it," Murray said. "We're really frustrated as far as the bounces we've gotten on some of the goals we've given up, with three of them going off me and (Marc-Edouard Vlasic)."
Not much for podiums -- Byfuglien was asked on Saturday if he's enjoying his time in the national spotlight.
"So far so good," he said. "It's nice."
Care to expand, big guy?
"No," he said, smiling.
Later he was asked which nickname he prefers between "Big Buff" and "Big Poppa."
"Either one sounds good," he said.