Blackhawks

Toughness personified: Blackhawks star Duncan Keith reaches 1,000-game milestone

Duncan Keith’s biggest moments with the Blackhawks have not been defining ones.

He scored the game-winning goal to clinch the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 against the Lightning. That same year, his overtime goal in Game 1 of the opening round against the Predators capped a comeback from a 3-0 deficit. He scored the game-winner in the third period of Game 6 to clinch that series.

But for Keith, who’s preparing to play his 1,000th career game with the Hawks on Saturday night against the Blues at the United Center, the defining greatness has been built over time — shift after shift over a period, a game, a playoff series, a playoff run, and season after season. His ability to play at a world-class level with high-end ice time in a hard-hitting, pulsating playoff series is the gold standard of physical and mental toughness.

And never more so than in the 2015 Western Conference Final against the Ducks.

Duncan Keith (2) shows off the Conn Smythe Trophy he was awarded unanimously as the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the ceremony honoring the Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship in 2015. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

“No human can stand that many hits,” Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf declared midway through that series. And Keith, more than anyone, defied that, tacitly taunting Getzlaf by getting stronger as the series went on. His incredible 230:48 of ice time (an average of 32:58) was 23:13 more than that of teammate Brent Seabrook and 39:07 more than what the Ducks’ leader, Francois Beauchemin, logged.

Most of the Hawks’ vaunted core — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Seabrook — had moments of glory during the three-Cup run. But nobody has exemplified the grit and resilience that made the Hawks a championship team like Keith has. When he took a puck to the mouth and lost seven teeth in Game 4 of the 2010 Western Conference Final, the Sharks scored a tying short-handed goal. But Keith returned after one shift, energized his team and assisted on Dave Bolland’s tie-breaking goal as the Hawks completed a sweep. That’s a Duncan Keith moment as much as any of his game-winners.

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And we probably don’t know the half of it.

“I think his toughness [stands out],” said Seabrook, who has played with Keith for 14 seasons since they joined the Hawks together in 2005-06. “I don’t know if he gets enough recognition for how tough he actually is. He’s been through a lot of things that a lot of people don’t know about and continues to play through that.

“The 2015 [playoffs] was where you saw him really take a stranglehold and stamp on it, I think. Just the way he played. Seeing what he went through before games, in-between games at hotels and what he was able to do on the ice — and obviously the big goal.”

Keith has won three Stanley Cups, the Conn Smythe Trophy and two Norris Trophies. But that isn’t foremost in his mind as he approaches 1,000 games.

“It’s obviously a huge accomplishment. I’m proud of it,” he said. “I think, more than anything, I’m proud just to be able to be in the NHL this long and play with a lot of great players and a great organization, a great coach [Joel Quenneville]. Just all the good players and good guys that I’ve been able to be with on this ride.”

The Hawks will honor Keith with a video tribute Saturday night. But as Kane noted, he’s not done yet.

“What a great career he’s had,” Kane said. “You look at two Norris Trophies, three Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, how well he’s played in the playoffs, how he’s able to come in in tip-top shape every year and be able to play so many minutes [and] be the backbone of our defense for a long time here. Even though he’s played a thousand games, it doesn’t seem like he’s getting any older or slowing down. Pretty impressive.”