When the Chicago Blackhawks hit the ice for Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night, they'll either avenge their loss to a California team in the same situation last year or get over the hump and get back into the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time since 2009-10. Regardless of how that shakes out, though, Duncan Keith has more than done the job expected of him on the blue line.
Much has been made about the Hawks' defensive corps, both during the regular season and during these NHL playoffs. Even before the injury suffered by Michal Rozsival, the Blackhawks have largely been rolling with four primary defensemen, with Duncan Keith obviously being the most integral among them. Despite being utilized as a crutch by Joel Quenneville and withstanding absurdly heavy minutes, Duncan Keith has yet to see any sort of decline in his individual performance.
Through 16 games, Keith is averaging 31:50 of ice time. The next closest player in this year's postseason who played in at least 10 games was T.J. Brodie, who averaged 27:07. Even Ryan Suter, the regular season's ice time leader, at 29:04, logged "only" 26:59 of ice time in his 10 games. Keith's heavy ice time hasn't only been excessive, it's been downright historic.
Since the 1997-98 season, there have only been four occurrences in which a defenseman has logged more ice time than Duncan Keith has. Two of those are Chris Pronger (35:52 in 13 games in '98-'99 being the most), with the other two being Al MacInnis and Ray Bourque. That's some pretty elite company in its own right.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Duncan Keith, and also the least surprising for anyone who's paid the slightest bit of attention to him in recent years, is the fact that his level of play hasn't deteriorated in any sense. War-on-ice has him at a 56.4 CF% at even strength for the postseason and he's been on the positive side of Corsi in every game in this Western Conference Final against Anaheim.
The most obvious example of Keith maintaining a high level of play, even in the midst of such heavy minutes, came in that second period of Game 6. Keith recorded three assists in the frame, starting the zone exit that led to the Brandon Saad breakaway goal, while recording primary assists on goals for both Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. The helper on the Kane goal was particularly impressive, as Keith went from the goal line to the blue line in a matter of seconds, batting an attempted Ducks clear down with his hand and getting the puck to Patrick Kane, who did the rest.
It was his fourth multi-point game of these playoffs and the second time he's recorded three points in a game. The first time came in Game 6 against the Nashville Predators, in which Keith recorded a goal and a pair of assists. His goal went down as the game-winner with 3:48 remaining in the game and he finished with a CF% up over 61 percent.
Keith's point total is tied for the fourth most in the postseason and easily the highest total among blue liners. The next closest is Anaheim's Sami Vatanen, who has 11 thus far. Keith's 14 assists are tops among anyone. In averaging exactly a point per game, Keith is turning in his best postseason, points-wise, to date. And there's a nice sample size there to measure it up against.
Should the Blackhawks escape this Game 7 on the road with the win that they so desire, we'll start to hear a lot more talk about Conn Smythe candidates in the Stanley Cup Final. Right at the top of that list will be Duncan Keith. He's been as integral to the success of the Hawks as any other player on any team has been to his respective club. As crucial as Jonathan Toews is as a player that contributes in all facets of the game, Duncan Keith brings a similar element on the blue line. In not only contributing in all phases, but logging extremely heavy minutes and maintaining a high level of play, Keith continues to amaze us.
And while it might be something new for the nationwide audience, those of us that have been watching Duncan Keith for the last few seasons are in no way surprised about the output.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.