Duncan Keith letting his stellar play do the talking

SHARE Duncan Keith letting his stellar play do the talking

The spotlight was literally on Patrick Kane after his game-breaking goal with 19.9 seconds left in the second period Sunday night. He was the one who scored the goal, after all. He was the one who sniped the puck past Devan Dubnyk on the far side, who fist-pumped so hard his helmet was jarred loose, who is known as “Showtime” for a reason.

Duncan Keith was some 100 feet away. But once he got his helmet on straight, Kane immediately looked for Keith off in the distance, pointing and saying something to the effect of “Nice pass!” Perhaps with a colorful word or two mixed in.

Because it was Keith who made the play happen, one-timing a sensational tape-to-tape stretch pass from the top of the circle in his own zone, between three players, right to a waiting Kane at the far blue line. The vision it took to see the play develop, and the skill it took to make such a perfect pass, are hard to fathom.

“What was amazing about that is just how it stayed flat the whole time,’’ Kane said. “Just a great flat pass right on my stick.”

For a two-time Norris Trophy winner who’ll likely be enshrined in both the United Center rafters and the Hockey Hall of Fame someday, the spotlight doesn’t always find Keith. And that’s perfectly fine with him. If there’s one thing Duncan Keith doesn’t like talking about, it’s Duncan Keith.

“I’m just trying to compete and trying to do what I can to help the team,” he said, almost through gritted teeth, Sunday night when asked how locked in he’s been during the postseason. “I think we’re a good team with a lot of great players here.”

Fortunately, Keith’s teammates are always eager to talk on his behalf.

“He’s been great, and it’s nice that he’s getting some recognition,” Patrick Sharp said. “I know he’s looked upon league-wide as a top defenseman. We think he’s the best in the league, along with a couple of other guys on our team. It’s nice that those guys can get some credit, because they do so much for us on the back end. Great shot by Kaner and a great play by him, but if you go back and look at the play, Duncs make a great play to zip it up there.”

Keith has two goals and eight assists through eight playoff games so far (tied with Kane for the team points lead), all while logging nearly 30 minutes a night — a number slightly inflated by the superhuman 46:19 he played in a triple-overtime victory over Nashville in Game 4 of the first round. He mans the point on the power play, kills penalties, double-shifts 5-on-5 and is a menace at both ends of the ice. After a solid if unspectacular regular season — at least, by Keith’s lofty standards —the indefatigable 31-year-old is starting to look a lot like the guy who was unstoppable and unbeatable during the 2013 Stanley Cup run.

Michal Rozsival always knew Keith was good. But it wasn’t until he started playing alongside him over the past couple of months that he realized just how good. You’d think it would be easier to play alongside a perennial All-Star. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Just try to keep up.

“It’s his speed, and the speed [at which] he makes plays out there, his decision speed and the way he can break out and stuff like that,” Rozsival said. “He does everything at such a high speed, sometimes it takes a partner time to get used to it. He’s so quick in getting into the corners and the battles, and he can help you out as a partner because he’s so quick. I’m trying to be quicker out there, because he’s always pushing me. He probably feels like he could get to my corner before I get there. He’s always talking to me about that. It’s just funny.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson is the Hawks’ top defensive defenseman, drawing the toughest assignments on most nights while skating behind Jonathan Toews’ line. That frees up Keith to get more favorable matchups offensively. But Keith’s gap and defensive presence are top-tier, as well. For Hjalmarsson, who’s only put two shots on goal in the last four games, that two-way ability is what stands out.

“For me personally, it’s a tough balance,” he said. “When I’m trying to be more offensive, I feel like sometimes I’m letting loose a bit defensively.”

It rarely seems to be a problem for Keith. About the only thing that seems to be tough for him is talking about himself. Fortunately, that’s about the only thing the Hawks don’t ask him to do.

“He’s as prepared as they come, and he’s a guy that obviously loves paying hockey — you can see that when he’s on the ice,” Kane said. “He’s into the game, he’s intense about it, he wants to be on the ice, he plays a lot of minutes and he really seems to eat up those minutes, too. We’re lucky to have him, and no one will ever take him for granted.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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