CHICAGO — Dustin Byfuglien is front and centre and the puck hasn’t even dropped.
Before the Madhouse on Madison has even had a chance to erupt during The Star Spangled Banner, the Chicago Blackhawks forward has jumped into the thoughts of the Vancouver Canucks.
Appropriately nicknamed Buff — and not because he’s a budding swimsuit model — everybody knows the big winger will be causing havoc for Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo when their Stanley Cup playoff series opens Saturday night.
“I’ve got all these cameras in front of me. It’s nice to be in the picture,” Byfuglien said with a grin.
“I’m just out there to do my job. He’s a good goaltender and it’s something we have to focus on — get pucks to him and bodies in front of him. That’s kinda why I’m here.”
Byfuglien is expected to be in Luongo’s face all the way to the final buzzer of the Western Conference semifinal.
Well, mainly his keister.
The 6-ft.-4, 257-lb., Blackhawk is big enough to have a wide-load sign. He drove Luongo and the rest of the Canucks crazy last year by not only providing screens, but with all his other tactics.
You know the tricks: “Accidentally” landing on the netminder, or a little tap on the glove in a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt at rattling the goalie.
Byfuglien ratcheted his act up a notch a year ago by going face-to-face with Luongo for some trash talking.
“We had a good time last year,” Byfuglien said. “It’s a new year and my job hasn’t changed.”
As for Luongo’s replies?
“Not much,” Byfuglien said. “He stays pretty quiet and just smiles.”
Having spent the last few days in Vancouver discussing his nemesis, Luongo let it be known after Friday’s practice in Chicago he no longer wanted to keep delving into their history.
“I’m not going to get in a Byfuglien thing,” Luongo said. “He’s a guy that stands in front of the net, just like every other team.
“(I’ll handle it) the same way I combated it last series. I had a couple of guys in front of the net. Big guys. You’ve just got to find a way to find the puck, fight through those things and make the save.
“It’s part of pretty much every team’s gameplan to have some net presence and make the goalie’s life difficult.”
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault went as far as to suggest Byfuglien isn’t his biggest worry.
“To tell you the truth, I’m more worried about (Patrick) Kane and (Jonathan) Toews than I am about that guy,” Vigneault said.
“We expect the referees to call goaltender interference when it’s there, and other than that, two teams are gonna play hard.
“Any team that plays against the Vancouver Canucks knows our top player is our goaltender. Any team in the NHL knows if they want to score goals, they’ve got to get to the net. We’re no different.
“Teams do that to us constantly. We got that through the L.A. series (from Ryan) Smyth and Dustin Brown. They’ve got a big player that goes to the front of the net, but he’s not the only one.”
True, but Byfuglien’s biggest flaw is his laid-back nature, and knowing he can become public enemy No.-1 may be what fires him up after an opening-round series in which he collected no points.
“It’s something he prides himself on and something we like to see him doing on a consistent basis,” said Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg.
“We’re excited to see him standing in front of the net.”
At least somebody is.