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


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.

Blackhawks mailbag: Could more trades be coming before 2019-20 season opener?


Blackhawks mailbag: Could more trades be coming before 2019-20 season opener?

Charlie Roumeliotis answers your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition. 

Is there any chance we see the Hawks make a trade before the season starts?

The Blackhawks had as active a summer as any team, revamping their roster and filling out their depth through trades and free agency. And because of that, it's going to be an extremely competitive training camp.

While the organization acknowledged that it's important to be 26, 27 players deep throughout the course of an 82-game season, the Blackhawks have a handful of players fighting for the same spot or two: Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, Brendan Perlini, Dylan Sikura and Anton Wedin. Heck, even Kirby Dach.

August is always the dead period around the NHL. But come September, it wouldn't be surprising to see some movement around the league when teams figure out what they have on the ice. Training camp and preseason games are a time for GMs to evaluate who may be getting squeezed out, whether there's a breakout prospect emerging and it's also when the pressure point of having to be compliant with the cap.

The Blackhawks could be one of those teams looking to make a tweak or two before Opening Night, but don't expect anything significant.

Do you think Nylander makes the team this year or does he spend another season in the AHL? If he does makes the team, who do you see him fitting on a line with?

Alex Nylander is going to be given a fair shot to make the Blackhawks out of training camp, and it would be a disappointment if he didn’t. He was taken No. 8 overall in 2016 and simply hasn’t taken that next step in his development yet.

Perhaps the situation in Buffalo played a role in that, but it will truly be up to Nylander whether he does unlock his true potential in Chicago. There isn’t a reason for him not to. It’s a much healthier situation and the spotlight isn’t on him.

If Nylander does make the team, expect him to play with offensively-gifted players — guys who can help bring out the best in his abilities and think the game at the same level. But playing with those types of players also means you're drawing top competition on a nightly basis, so he will have to earn it.

Do you think all the additions this summer may be a strategic move to help prepare the Hawks for the expansion draft? (Keeping the prospects off the team till midseason or something so they remain draft protected/ineligible?)

Good question. The summer of 2020 is going to be a fascinating one for the Blackhawks because that's when teams are going to start making some moves ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. And as of right now, the Blackhawks are going to expose a really good player, whether they pick the seven forwards and three defensemen option or the eight skater one.

Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews all have no-movement clauses, so they must be protected (unless the player approves of being exposed, which is highly unlikely). Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are two others who must be protected, so that's six right there. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw are two others who are eligible. Same with Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Connor Murphy. And if Erik Gustafsson signs an extension, he must be protected also.

Again, the list is deep. But to answer your original question, the primary focus this summer was to fill needs across the roster (physicality and defensive-minded players) and doing so through trades was the best possible option because they were able to get guys with term and a reasonable cap hit. Free agency is where the overpayment happens. The goalie situation for the Blackhawks is one to watch ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. 

As far as prospects go, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach will not be eligible for the expansion draft no matter how many games they play in this season and next because the draft happens before the 2021-22 calendar season. So that will not play a role in the organization's decision regarding when they play in the NHL.

What are your expectations for the goaltending tandem in Rockford? Delia appears to be the current starter, but Lankinen was really impressive this summer for Finland. Small-ish sample size, but he was phenomenal. Do you think it will end up being an even split at some point?

Collin Delia may have signed a three-year extension with the Blackhawks, but that doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t want to give Kevin Lankinen a strong look also. Delia has earned the right to be the starter, but the split between he and Lankinen will likely be closer to 50-50 if both goalies are performing.

Lankinen was sensational between the pipes for Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, helping lead his country to a gold medal. But Delia is also taking significant steps in his development and doing so at a rapid pace. It should be a healthy competition in Rockford.

With so much prospect talk focused on Dach, Boqvist, & Delia (and rightfully so) is there a dark horse prospect (I'm talking about that under the radar grinder) fans should keep their eyes on & where are they expected to be playing this year so we can follow?

Two prospects come to mind when discussing potential dark horses: MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev. Both of them will be playing in Rockford this season.

Entwistle and Kurashev took significant steps in their development this past season, with Entwistle playing a key role in the Guelph Storm winning the OHL championship and Kurashev leading the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships in scoring with six goals in seven games.

Entwistle is a player who knows exactly what his role will be in the NHL and has already embraced it: a bottom-six forward, reliable penalty killer and a leader on and off the ice. And that’s something the Blackhawks value about him.

Kurashev is more offensively skilled and has some sneaky upside to be a potential breakout player as a fourth-round pick. Keep an eye on him.

Is it October yet?

This really has felt like a long summer, hasn’t it? We’re almost there, Zane. 

A few checkpoints are coming up on the schedule though that may help speed up the process: Traverse City prospects tournament from Sept. 6-11, training camp festival on Sept. 15 and the first preseason game on Sept. 16. We're getting closer.

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SportingNews Top 50 NHL Prospects lists Boqvist at 10 and Kirby Dach at 13

USA Today

SportingNews Top 50 NHL Prospects lists Boqvist at 10 and Kirby Dach at 13

NHL draft analyst Steve Kournianos released his list for Top 50 players in NHL pipelines for the upcoming 2019-20 season. To the delight of Blackhawks fans everywhere, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach were ranked at number 10 and 13 respectively.

Kournianos described 19-year-old defender Boqvist as a dominant rookie with 40 assists and 20 goals during his tenure with the London Knights. Fans speculate whether the Blackhawks will keep Boqvist on his junior squad for another year or pull him up to play with the American Hockey League Rockford Ice Hogs.

Kournianos said Dach was one of Team Canada’s top players at the World Junior Summer Showcase. The 18-year-old center is sure to be one of Canada’s main forwards during World Juniors and Dach has the flexibility to play anywhere in the Blackhawks lineup. Dach’s entry-level contract allows him up to nine NHL games this season, giving him the chance to return to the AHL or NHL after his junior season in the Western Hockey League is finished.

Both Boqvist and Dach are key player for the future of this team and it will interesting to watch the Hawks develop these younger players.

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