ANAHEIM, Calif. — Duncan Keith has won the Norris Trophy twice as the league’s best defenseman. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a three-time All-Star and a sure-fire future Hall of Famer. But with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on his team, he often flies a bit under the radar.
Keith has been the biggest star of the Western Conference final, and his phenomenal performance in the Blackhawks’ Game 6 victory at the United Center — sparking three goals and saving another — has only enhanced his sterling reputation. Keith has always been good in the postseason; he was particularly terrific in the final two rounds of the 2013 playoffs, and has 70 points in 109 playoff games. But this spring, he entered Saturday night’s Game 7 with 16 points in 16 games, tops among NHL defensemen, and his 13 even-strength points trailed only Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf. Keith’s plus-11 rating was tied with Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman for the best in the league, and the Hawks have controlled more than 56 percent of shot attempts with Keith on the ice — the fifth-best possession number in the league.
As the engine that drives the Hawks at both ends of the rink, Keith entered Game 7 as the Hawks’ clear front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
“We know he’s having a great playoffs,” Patrick Kane said. “He’s been huge for us, especially in this round. But it’s nothing we’re not used to seeing from him. He seems to do it every year.”
What has garnered Keith the most attention from a suddenly fawning national press is the minutes he’s logging. With the Hawks’ shorthanded on the blue line, and the Hawks playing in so many overtime games, Keith is averaging a whopping 31 minutes, 49 seconds a night. And he shows no sign of slowing down, no matter how many times the Ducks hit him.
Keith’s genetic endurance levels and his relentless workout regimen — Joel Quenneville called him “kind of a freak” — has been a hot topic, with one reporter asking him if he’s always had such lung capacity, even as a kid.
“I don’t know,” Keith said. “I just liked to play. When I was a kid, we had a lot of outdoor rinks where I grew up. I didn’t really pay attention to my lung capacity. I was 8 years old.”
The Ducks have been just as impressed, with Cam Fowler calling him a “world-class player.” Getzlaf said the strategy is make Keith work in his own end, to grind him out and force him to make “special plays.” Of course, Keith did just that in Game 6.
“Obviously, he’s one of the top athletes in this game,” Hawks goalie Corey Crawford said. “The minutes he’s played, the pounding he gets. … He’s one of the top, top players in this league, and it’s for a reason.”