Big men still play a role

MIKE KEENAN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

When the anti-obstruction crackdown was implemented a couple of years ago, the smaller player appeared to be the prime beneficiary.

In a lot of ways, that is exactly what happened.

Diminutive offensive forces such as the Buffalo Sabres' Daniel Briere have flourished, no longer having to deal with the same extent of clutching and grabbing.

But the 2007 playoffs also have highlighted another interesting nugget about the modern game.

That is, there is still room in hockey for big forwards, too.

Some figured the refined rules would hinder the taller, broader, bulkier players, who were supposed to now have more difficulty pursuing and catching the Brieres of the world.

But the Red Wings' Todd Bertuzzi and Tomas Holmstrom have shown just how effective the bigger players can be, even in this so-called new era of the sport.

Take Bertuzzi. He's a big man. And he has been a force.

What guys like he and Holmstrom do runs much deeper than just what you see in the summary.

They pound opposing defencemen on the forecheck. They stand in front of the net, clog the goaltender's view and create general havoc.

With teams jamming the neutral zone so much here in the post-season -- both Ottawa and Anaheim are among those who regularly have used this tactic -- there has been less room for the smaller players such as Briere to work up speed on the attack.

At this point, teams have to adapt. In this instance, that might mean dumping the puck into the corners and chasing it down.

That's where Bertuzzi comes in. Winning the battles along the boards and in the corners, like Bertuzzi does, is crucial to having success, especially in the playoffs.

Buffalo, for example, had a hard time winning these battles against Ottawa. The Sabres are a team built on speed and, at times, tried to maintain their finesse game instead of dumping it in.

That's exactly what Ottawa was hoping for. Their defensive style is built to smother teams attempting to enter the Sens zone off the rush, thereby daring opponents to shoot it in.

On the other hand, Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson can play it both ways. He's very skilled, sure, but he doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves for his strength.

He can score or set up plays off the rush, or he can dig the puck out of the dirty areas. That's what has made him so successful in these playoffs.

Entering Game 4 against the Sabres Wednesday night, the Sens braintrust had also managed to get its skilled players to buy into the notion of playing tight defence. Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza have all done a nice job on that front.

When your stars buy into your defensive system, scoring will go down, as we've seen this spring. At the same time, it's a method that can breed success.

Having a good goaltender doesn't hurt, either.

On that note, how about ageless Dominik Hasek?

A lot of people thought he might be outshone by the likes of Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov and Anaheim's J.S. Giguere, but the Dominator is having the last laugh thus far.

Dominik was playing behind Ed Belfour back when we were all with the Chicago Blackhawks, so I know him quite well.

Even back then, one of the first things you noticed about Dom was his incredibly quick feet.

Maybe his critics jumped the gun a bit when they claimed he had lost a step. It certainly hasn't looked that way here in the playoffs.


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