Duncan Keith's injury will test Blackhawks' depth and character

USA Today

Duncan Keith's injury will test Blackhawks' depth and character

The Blackhawks were near the bottom of the NHL in man-games lost last season, but the injury bug is starting to hit them all at once this season and it's coming at an inopportune time.

With Drake Caggiula and Dylan Strome both in concussion protocol and Connor Murphy recently back from a groin injury, Duncan Keith is the latest victim to be sidelined. And his presence will certainly be missed on the back end.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner left Friday's 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche with a groin injury and did not return. He logged 9:30 of ice time before exiting in the second period, with his final shift coming at the 9:45 mark after the Avalanche scored their fourth goal.

It sounds like it's an injury Keith has been dealing with for some time, which head coach Jeremy Colliton indicated has been a reason for Keith's recent maintenance days from practice.

"Obviously we try to take care of it and at some point he just felt he couldn't play," Colliton said. "He's been playing a lot and it's a heavy schedule, so we've been trying to give him off days and optionals and what not. I'm not sure how serious it is... I'm not even sure exactly what the end diagnosis is going to be."

All the Blackhawks know right now is Keith will not travel to Colorado for the second of a home-and-home series against the Avalanche on Saturday, meaning the 36-year-old blue-liner will miss his first game since April 6, 2017, ending a 189-game Iron Man streak.

Since Keith entered the NHL during the 2005-06 season, the Blackhawks have played in 1,139 regular-season games. Keith has missed only 38 of those: 17 from injuries, 10 from suspensions, seven from rest and three from illness. 

It's going to be an unusual feeling for the Blackhawks not to have Keith in the lineup on Saturday, and they're hoping his absence won't be any longer than that.

"It's one of those things you're so used to having him on the back end doing what he does, it's almost like you take it for granted," Jonathan Toews said. "A lot of minutes he plays, what he does offensively and defensively, just how he makes the game easier on his own partner and everyone around him too. Hopefully he'll be back soon. Not used to being out there without a guy like him and definitely hurts a lot."  

With Keith being ruled out, the Blackhawks recalled defenseman Ian McCoshen from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League and re-assigned Matthew Highmore. But filling Keith's role will require an all-hands-on-deck approach.

"It's opportunity for guys to show they can do more for us," Colliton said. "Every team in the league goes through it and we're going to go through it and we've got to find a way to get points anyway."

The Blackhawks don't need to look very far for inspiration on how to overcome key injuries. The Avalanche rolled past the Blackhawks on Friday and did so without several crucial pieces to their puzzle, including the team's third-leading scorer Andre Burakovsky, bottom-six winger Matt Calvert, top pairing defenseman Erik Johnson, captain Gabriel Landeskog, two-time 80-point-getter Mikko Rantanen and versatile forward Colin Wilson.

The Blackhawks' depth is about to be tested, and so is their character, especially if Keith is out for an extended period. Good teams find a way to push through. Can the Blackhawks prove to be one of them?

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2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 2 win over Sharks

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 2 win over Sharks

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, NBC Sports Chicago is re-airing each of the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins from the run that ended a 49-year championship drought. You can join the conversation using #HawksRewind on social media.

After stealing Game 1 in San Jose, the Blackhawks took care of business in Game 2 by beating the Sharks 4-2 to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Final. Here are three things we noticed in the win:

1. Building a cushion

You knew the Sharks were going to come out hungry after losing Game 1 in their own building, and the Blackhawks certainly matched that intensity. 

After Andrew Ladd broke the scoreless tie at the 12:48 mark of the first period, Dustin Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews followed suit in the second to put the Blackhawks in front 3-0. It was crucial for the visiting team not to give the Sharks any momentum, and it wasn't until 31:08 into the game that the home team finally got on the board.

2. A make-up game on special teams?

The Blackhawks had zero power plays in Game 1, so they didn't get a chance of testing a Sharks team that had the fifth-ranked penalty kill percentage (85.0) in the regular season. But that changed in Game 2.

The Sharks racked up 22 total penalty minutes and committed six minor penalties, two of which came with 18 seconds left in the game that saw two Blackhawks get sent off as well. The Blackhawks committed only one minor penalty in the previous 59:42.

Both teams converted on the power play once, but the Blackhawks staying out of the box for the majority of the game certainly played a role in preventing the Sharks from getting within striking distance or taking control early.

3. Duncan Keith's strong performance

He didn't garner as much attention as others, but Keith was solid for the Blackhawks in Game 2. He recorded two assists, six shot attempts (three on goal), four blocked shots and led all skaters with 30:21 of ice time. No other skater logged more than 27:56.

Keith was pointless in his first five postseason games, but had nine points (one goal, eight assists) in his next nine.

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NHL 20 sim: Blackhawks close strong late season push with playoff berth

NHL 20 sim: Blackhawks close strong late season push with playoff berth

It all comes down to one game for the Blackhawks. A win at Madison Square Garden earns them a playoff bid as the second Wild Card team and a first round showdown with the St. Louis Blues. A loss, and it’ll be a third consecutive season watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from home.

The Rangers come into this game having been eliminated from playoff contention, but with plenty to play for. This could very well be Henrik Lundqvist’s last start in a Ranger uniform and there’s no doubt he and his teammates will be motivated to send the legend out on a high note. In addition, you can bet Artemi Panarin would love nothing more than to play spoiler against his former club. Will the Blueshirts bring the Blackhawks down to earth, or will Chicago punch their return ticket to the postseason?

Blackhawks at Rangers (4/4)

Result: Blackhawks win 4-2

Three Stars:

First Star: Kirby Dach (1 G, 1 A, 3 SOG)

Second Star: Alex Nylander (1 G, 1 A)

Third Star: Alex DeBrincat (1 G, 1 A)

The youth movement came into full form in Saturday’s win in Manhattan. While the Hawks young players stepped up vs. the Islanders, they doubled down on Saturday. All three Blackhawks goals were scored by players aged 22 and younger and the game’s first star was the 19-year-old Dach. Secondary scoring and role players are vital come playoff time, so the youth contributions for Chicago down the stretch bodes well for their chances in the playoffs.

Scoring summary

First period

4:48: Jesper Fast (R. Strome, T. DeAngelo) 1-0

9:35 PP: Alex DeBrincat (A. Boqvist, K. Dach) 1-1

Second period

5:30: PP Alex Nylander (D. Kubalik, B. Saad) 2-1

12:34: Phil Di Guiseppe (K. Kakko, F. Chytil) 2-2

9:37 PP: Kirby Dach (A. DeBrincat, D. Keith) 3-2

Third period

19:22 EN: Slater Koekkoek (A. Nylander, P. Kane) 4-2

Box score

Shots on Goal:

Chicago: 27

New York: 25

The Blackhawks picked up two points at MSG using a similar formula from their win in Brooklyn: special teams success and a sound defensive effort. For the second straight game, Chicago limited their opponent to under 30 shots on goal after allowing 35.1 shots on goal per game during the regular season.


Corey Crawford: 23/25 (.920 SV%)

Henrik Lundqvist: 24/27 (.889 SV%)

Corey Crawford stepping up in big situations is something Hawks fans have grown accustomed to over the past decade, and the win over New York was no different. Neither goal was really his fault. He was screened by his own teammate on the first and a defensive breakdown resulted in the second. The Blackhawks will need Crawford at his best to have any chance in the first round against the Blues.

Power play:

Chicago: 3-4

New York: 0-1

After a pair of power play goals against the Islanders, the Hawks were even better against the Rangers, cashing in on three of four chances. The penalty kill stepped up as well, shutting down the Rangers in their lone power play chance. Both special teams units seem to be clicking at the right time for Jeremy Colliton’s crew.

Notable Blackhawks performances:

Adam Boqvist (Assist)

Duncan Keith (Assist)

Brandon Saad (Assist)

The pairing of Keith and Boqvist has led the way for the Blackhawks blue line in their defensive renaissance. Both factored in on the scoring in Saturday’s win, but they’ve been the top pairing for a unit that’s playing their best hockey of the season. Duncan Keith is showing flashes of his Norris Trophy-winning self from years past, and Boqvist is proving doubters of his defensive abilities wrong while also showing off his offensive skill. No doubt the 19-year-old Boqvist is benefitting from playing alongside a legend. 

Noticeable absences from the score sheet the last two games are Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Toews registered just one assist, while Kane got only two secondary assists on empty-net goals. The defense stepping up, power play clicking, and youth movement showing promise are important to a playoff run. That said, you can surely expect Kane and Toews to step up in the playoffs. If not, it will be hard to see the Hawks having much of a chance against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.