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No snow showers were necessary for the Chicago Blackhawks to get under the skin, into the heads and on the nerves of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Already frayed around the edges coming in, the Canucks were their own worst enemy Friday night, and Jonathan Toews and the Hawks made them pay. Toews' first career playoff hat trick and franchise record-tying five points provided the most damage in the Hawks' 7-4 victory, leaving them one win shy of clinching the best-of-seven series as it heads back to Chicago for Game 5 on Sunday.
Dustin Byfuglien and his teammates were hacked, hooked, roughed, kneed and all but mugged en route to eight Vancouver penalties. Even Antti Niemi once found himself flattened by Canucks heavy Daniel Sedin behind the net. But the Hawks scored on four consecutive power-play opportunities -- including all three of Toews' goals -- reducing Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo to a nonfactor and his teammates to a group that bears little resemblance to the team that looked so dominant in Game 1.
"I really believed this group was ready for this time, ready for this moment, but obviously their actions at this time are proving me wrong," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said.
While the Canucks were preoccupied with Byfuglien in particular, Toews teed off, his five points on three goals and two assists tying a mark set by Stan Mikita in 1973 and Steve Larmer in 1990. Toews' hat trick followed a three-goal effort by Byfuglien in Game 3, the first back-to-back playoff hat tricks for the Hawks since Tony Amonte and Gary Suter pulled off the feat in 1994.
Byfuglien, playing on the top line for the second game in a row after moving to offense this series, cleared the way for a combined 11 shots by Toews and Patrick Kane, who also had two assists. But it was his innate ability to legally irritate that made the biggest impression.
"It's been that way since last year," Byfuglien said. "I just stand there and create traffic, and they're the ones creating the big hype and doing something about it. ... At the beginning, I think they were more focused on getting even and squaring things up, but we never got away from our game plan."
The Hawks, now 4-1 on the road in these playoffs, struck almost immediately Friday night, with Brent Seabrook scoring 18 seconds into the game on a sequence in which, not coincidentally, Byfuglien was being slammed into the boards, taking his defender with him.
Although the Canucks answered 1:34 later with a Kyle Wellwood goal following a turnover by Seabrook and -- following Toews' first goal off a Byfuglien screen -- kept it even at 2-all at the end of the first period, the home team completely unraveled in the second. The Hawks scored three times on four power-play opportunities -- twice briefly enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage -- and that with the Canucks probably catching a few breaks from officials.
The Hawks now have been outhit by the Canucks 68-36 in the past two games, but obviously, being physical works only when you can get away with it.
"We lost our composure again; I don't know why that happened," an obviously frustrated Luongo said. "We talked about it. We were all on the same page before the game started. There are emotions, no doubt. It's the playoffs. [But] at the end of the day, playing to win and everything we do on the ice we have to do for the benefit of the team."
More daunting for the Canucks is the fact that the Hawks are 13-0 all time with a 3-1 series lead. Vancouver has overcome 3-1 playoff deficits three times.
"Coming in here and winning both games is a huge plus," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Going back home is a huge advantage. We should be excited about it."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.