As Blackhawks’ top pairing faces adversity, Duncan Keith must lead Adam Boqvist

After their pairing struggled in the Hawks’ Game 2 loss, Keith will be relied upon to advise his rookie partner on how to handle playoff pressure.

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Duncan Keith’s pairing with Adam Boqvist struggled in the Blackhawks’ Game 2 loss.

AP Photos

The pairing of Duncan Keith and Adam Boqvist has been a staple atop the Blackhawks’ defensive depth chart since December.

Despite the radically different personalities — Keith is deadpan at his best, prickly at his worst; Boqvist radiates goofiness — and the age disparity (37 to 19), they’ve developed strong chemistry off the ice, too.

But up against the Oilers’ Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — and with only two, maybe three, games left to solve them — the Keith-Boqvist pairing is being tested more than ever.

“Experience is important, but those two guys are a big part of our team, and we need to get them going,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Tuesday. “We addressed some things we didn’t like and reminded each other of the things we need to do to have success in the next [game].”

In the Hawks’ 6-4 victory in Game 1, Keith-Boqvist excelled. In the 10 minutes the pair was on the ice together at even strength, the Hawks outshot the Oilers 10-0, out-chanced them 7-0 and outscored them 1-0. That was in spite of facing the Draisaitl line for 3½ of those minutes and the McDavid line for another three minutes.

In the Hawks’ 6-3 loss in Game 2, however, Keith-Boqvist struggled mightily. In the pair’s 11 minutes at even strength, the Hawks were outshot 10-6, out-chanced 6-5 and outscored 3-0.

The pair’s woes started on the game’s opening shift when Keith passed in the wrong direction while dealing with an Oilers dump-in, Boqvist got caught sleeping on the wrong side of the ice and McDavid scored easily.

“We talk a lot about . . . how we want to play certain situations,” Keith said. “It’s always easy to second-guess things when they score a goal. To me, it’s a bang-bang play; it’s in the net.”

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Keith and Boqvist, seen here colliding with Andreas Athanasiou, were out-scored 3-0 by the Oilers on Monday.

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This is where the strong friendship and mentorship between the veteran and the rookie will prove crucial.

Keith drew some laughs during a training-camp interview when he admitted that Boqvist often helps him out during practices. He apparently struggles to understand the different drill instructions Colliton barks out, so he’ll turn to Boqvist for a simpler explanation.

Now, as the Hawks prepare for Game 3 on Wednesday, Keith is repaying Boqvist in the form of battle-tested postseason advice. 

“In the playoffs, there’s lots of talk, there’s a little more media attention — obviously we’re doing these press conferences and things like that,” Keith said. “You can get a little bit wrapped up in it as a young guy if it’s your first time. But it’s still hockey. It’s something you’ve done your whole life.

“[Boqvist is] at his best when he’s confident, and he’s really good with the puck. . . . When we’re moving the puck, we’re skating, making good plays out of the zone, through the neutral zone, in their zone — that’s when we’re at our best and the team is at its best. . . . The focus on that is the stuff we’ve talked about together.”

After three Stanley Cups and 128 playoff appearances (and counting), Keith has indeed seen just about everything. 

He was in one of his deadpan moods Tuesday and confidently called the Hawks’ 1-1 series tie a “good position” to be in. At this point in his career, it’s impossible to argue against his assessments, including that one.

He just needs to ingrain that same confidence and unflappability into his mentee.

“It’s the playoffs; there’s going to be ups and downs,” Colliton said. “Sometimes it’s going your way, and sometimes they have a night. . . . [You] can’t get too high or low.”

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