Blackhawks

Duncan Keith's 'freak' effort lifts Blackhawks to Game 6 win

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Duncan Keith's 'freak' effort lifts Blackhawks to Game 6 win

The NHL doesn't test for bionics, but if they did Duncan Keith may have a hard time passing. 

At the ripe age of 31, Keith is showing no signs of slowing down.

In his tenth year in the NHL, Keith is putting the Blackhawks on his back night in and night out, trying to will the team to a third Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2010.

"It’s unbelievable," Andrew Shaw said. "One of those athletes that digs down and finds that extra step. He’s a huge asset and lucky to be on our side."

If the Anaheim Ducks thought that the burden of carrying the Blackhawks defensive core and the insane amount of minutes he has logged this postseason were going to eventually take a toll on Keith, he proved that theory wrong in the Blackhawks' 5-2 Game 6 victory Wednesday evening.

[MORE HAWKS: Huge second period from Blackhawks forces Game 7 vs. Ducks]

With both teams playing a game of chess throughout the first 20 minutes of action, Keith made a series of moves that triggered the Blackhawks to a lead the Ducks were unable to rebound from in Game 6.

Midway through the second period, Keith launched a stretch pass that tipped off Patrick Kane's stick to a streaking Brandon Saad, who used his speed to get in all alone past Ducks defenders and fire a wrist shot through Frederik Andersen's five hole, giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.

Just two minutes later, Keith showed remarkable patience by twice faking a slapshot to draw Andersen out of the net, sliding a pass over to a wide open Marian Hossa, who buried an easy one-timer into a wide open Anaheim net to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead.

Keith's string of dominance from an offensive standpoint would continue just over a minute later.

A clearing attempt from behind the Ducks net appeared that it would easily sail out of the defensive zone, but Keith was somehow able to keep the puck in at the blue line and find Kane, who made an ankle-breaking move past Matt Beleskey and send a shot through the short side that Andersen was unable to corral. 

[WATCH: Blackhawks explode for three goals in second period]

Just like that it was 3-0 Blackhawks and pandemonium ensued from a boisterous crowd of 22,089 at the United Center, hoping that Wednesday wasn't the last Blackhawks game they would witness this season.

"There are nights when you look at the score sheet and you see how pivotal he can be," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "How much he means to our team, especially in these big games. But whether he’s on that score sheet...he’s there every night. He’s making that difference no matter what. We always know that in the locker room.

“We’ve seen in previous years in the playoffs, when it’s must win, you can count on him stepping up and being one of our best players, if not our best player.”

The reigning James Norris Memorial Trophy winner entered Game 6 as the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs leader with an average of 32:06 ice time per game. He played just a tick under 29 minutes in Game 6, three-plus minutes lower than his postseason average. Still, he was on the ice more than any player on Wednesday night.

Is there a secret to his ability to log heavy minutes?

"Well, he’s kind of a freak as far as his metabolism and conditioning level," head coach Joel Quenneville deadpanned following Game 6. "The more he plays the more he gets going. Certain guys, genetically or aerobically, they can sustain it. He keeps doing it.

"He’s constantly eating, constantly putting liquids back into his system, he rests properly. When we do the testing, his numbers are usually at the high, high end."

While Keith made a monster impact in the offensive zone in Game 6, it was a play he made in front of Corey Crawford that may have saved the Blackhawks season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

After Clayton Stoner pulled the Ducks to within one goal of the Blackhawks early in the third period, Anaheim appeared to have gotten the equalizer when a shot from the point got past Crawford and floated just centimeters in front of the goal line. Keith swept the puck away just before it was able to cross the line, which would be the closest the Ducks would come to scoring the tying goal. 

It was par for the course for Keith, and the goaltender playing behind him more than appreciates his nightly effort.

“He plays great every game," Crawford said. "Every game he makes plays. But he’s been solid for us all year, every year. He’s one of the best and definitely showed it tonight.”

Keith has played at a high level in each game of the Western Conference Final on just one day rest. 

Imagine what he could do with an extra day off? The Blackhawks will find out in a win-or-go-home Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final berth on the line in Anaheim on Saturday night.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

10 years with 'Coach Q' anything but ordinary

10 years with 'Coach Q' anything but ordinary

Over the last 10 years, the words “ordinary” and "OK" have taken on a new meaning to Blackhawks players and fans alike. 

That’s “Coach Q” speak. 

A language where “ordinary” means awful and “just OK” means you were a non-factor. The good news is the last 10 seasons under Joel Quenneville have been anything but ordinary at the United Center. 

On Oct. 16th, 2008, the Blackhawks let go of fan-favorite Denis Savard after a 1-2-1 start to the season and named Quenneville as head coach in his place. Quenneville coached the Colorado Avalanche the previous season, but after another disappointing exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the two mutually parted ways. He had originally planned to stay away from the bench for at least a season, but the Blackhawks triumvirate of Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough and then-GM Dale Tallon brought Quenneville on as a scout and then handed him the keys to the car shortly after.

“Dale’s obligation is to put together a winning team,” said McDonough at Quenneville’s introductory press conference. “At this point, Joel is the coach of that team.”

It was an emotional day at the Blackhawks offices. Savard – a Blackhawks legend on the ice and a coach the players held in high regard – was let go just as things started to turn upwards for the organization. The end of the 2007-2008 season saw the Blackhawks once again miss out on the playoffs, but the fans began to flock to the United Center once more, and the hype train around the young team built around Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane was gaining steam.

“Moving forward, if we want to be a championship-caliber organization, we have to make tough decisions,” said Tallon. “This was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.” 

Savard was 65-66-16 in parts of three seasons as head coach of the Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Quenneville had compiled eight 95+ point seasons behind the bench for the Blues and Avalanche in his 11 years as a head coach.

“We felt the experience and the track record of Joel would be a balance that we needed with a young, inexperienced team,” said Tallon. "Joel brings us a wealth of experience and a winning track record that will have an immediate and lasting impact."

The gamble paid off for the Blackhawks in a major way. Once Quenneville took over, the team got to the sought-after next level. 

They finished the 08-09 season with 104 points, third-most in the NHL’s Western Conference, had a franchise-record setting 9-game win streak in the month of December and returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season. The “young and inexperienced” Blackhawks took the league by storm, dropping the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs in six games before taking down the rival Canucks in the next round.

They ultimately lost out to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals, but the bar was now set for the organization. From then on, the Blackhawks were Stanley Cup contenders. 

Quenneville currently ranks 2nd in franchise history with 449 wins, trailing only Billy Reay’s 516. 

But most importantly, Quenneville’s 76 playoff wins rank at the top in the organization’s long and storied history, and those three Stanley Cups that he’s raised over his head were anything but “ordinary.”