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Rookie's debut good as it gets
Dustin Byfuglien is no different than any other hockey player. While growing up he dreamed of scoring the game-winning goal in his first NHL game.
Wednesday night at the United Center, the dream became reality when Byfuglien sent a wrist shot from inside the blue line past Nashville goaltender Chris Mason at the 15-minute,14-second mark of the first period to open the scoring.
The Blackhawks added a couple of more goals, but Byfuglien's was the game-winner in a 3-0 victory over Nashville.
"I was standing at the blue line and it was wide open," Byfuglien said. "It happened to go in, it was a great thing."
Equally as great, from the Hawks' standpoint, was that in the 58th game of the season, they recorded their first shutout, with Craig Anderson turning aside 20 shots. It was Anderson's second career shutout and continued his strong play since rejoining the Hawks Feb. 3.
"Sometimes it's good to get a break, even though you're playing well," Anderson said of the three-week Olympic break. "We have to be ready whether we have two weeks off or one day off."
This was the first game back for both teams and one of the questions facing many teams the remainder of the NHL season is what kind of hangover teams that sent players to Turin will suffer, if any.
The Predators sent five players to Italy and all but goaltender Tomas Vokoun were in the lineup Wednesday. Nashville didn't look like the same team that buried the Hawks in each of the first five meetings this season, outscoring them 27-8 in the process.
"There are going to be teams coming out of the break that are going to be great and teams that aren't going to play as well," Nashville general manager David Poile said. "This is going to be an ongoing story right through the playoffs."
But part of Nashville's problem Wednesday was also a complete effort by the home team, despite playing in front of the smallest crowd of the season, which was announced at 9,333.
"The guys played really well," Hawks coach Trent Yawney said. "What it takes to win is sometimes very simple, but it's not easy to buy into. We've done it too many times the other way [this season]."
Yawney has said this week he wants the remaining games of this season to serve as a start to the 2006-07 campaign. Many players, such as Anderson, are playing for their NHL lives.
"It's huge," Anderson said. "We're all trying to play for a spot for next year."
Another player in that same position may be Patrick Sharp. He went 24 games without a goal since joining the Hawks in a deal from Philadelphia before scoring in the last game before the break in Anaheim. He added his second in as many games to finish off the scoring.
"I've never been a player that judges how well I play by goals and assists," Sharp said. "But when you come to a new team and go that long without scoring, it obviously weighs on you."