Phaneuf finds way

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

CHICAGO -- One of the biggest surprises of the Flames-Blackhawks Western Conference quarterfinal series has been Dion Phaneuf's virtual invisibility.

Even more surprising is that it's a good thing.

The way Phaneuf's regular-season went, many expected the Flames defenceman to stick out like a sore thumb in the absence of shut-down rearguard Robyn Regehr.

So often during the 82-game schedule, fans were cursing after a turnover or lost battle for the puck by Phaneuf led to a goal for the opposition.

His minus-11 rating and career-worst 11 goals and 47 points left him out of Norris Trophy consideration a year after being a finalist for defenceman of the year honours.

So far against the Chicago Blackhawks, Phaneuf has been on the ice for just four goals against -- only two at even strength.

At the same time, he's been out there for seven of the Flames' 14 goals, collecting assists on three of them.

A lack of glaring errors is the biggest reason people are either praising the 24-year-old or failing to notice him at all.

"Personal statistics don't really matter -- plus/minus, goals, assists -- this time of year it doesn't matter," Phaneuf said yesterday after practice at the United Center.

"Of course you want to be a plus player, and that's definitely a big part of being good defensively."

A plus-3 in the series so far, Phaneuf has simplified his game.

He also is playing fewer minutes than the overwhelming workload heaped upon him in the regular season.

"He's been playing good," said veteran Calgary defenceman Adrian Aucoin. "He's been playing hard. Not to say he doesn't play hard during the season, but it wasn't an easy year for him."

"When you get a guy who plays the way he does, and he's got the spotlight on him a lot, it's not the easiest thing when you get a little more critisism than you're used to.

"But playoffs are what it's about, and he's stepped up."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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