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.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares


Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention. 

Blackhawks 2018 NHL Draft capsules: Scouting reports and analysis

Blackhawks 2018 NHL Draft capsules: Scouting reports and analysis

A recap of the Blackhawks' selections in the 2018 NHL Draft, and their scouting reports, including analysis from Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and VP of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

Round 1, pick 8: Adam Boqvist, defenseman

Round 1, pick 27: Nicolas Beaudin, defenseman

Round 3, pick 69: Jake Wise, center

— What you need to know: Wise, 18, scored 11 goals and dished out 32 assists in 38 games for the United States National Team Development Program last season. He also scored a goal and added four assists in seven games during the Under-18 World Junior Championship. Wise will play at Boston University next year.

— Scouting report: Wise is 5-foot-10, 194 pounds and is known to be an excellent skater. He's also responsible in his own end, which is a trait the Blackhawks always appreciate in their younger players.

— Player reaction: "I thought the Hawks were probably one of the teams I was going to go to for the longest time. I don’t know why, but I always had a gut feeling. And to go to the Blackhawks, it’s unbelievable. Unbelievable organization and I couldn’t be happier."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He's just a really smart two-way centerman. He had a great start to the season and then he missed some time and it was ironic when he came back, it was the same time Jack Hughes joined the team and all of a sudden they had a No. 1 and No. 2 center and the team really took off."

Round 3, pick 74: Niklas Nordgren, forward

— What you need to know: Nordgren, 18, compiled 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 28 games for Jr. A SM-liiga in the HIFK U20 league, and produced at a point-per-game rate in the playoffs with six goals and four assists in 10 games. He also reigstered 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in seven games for Finland during the Under-18 World Junior Championship. He plans to return to Finland next season.

— Scouting report: Nordgren is an undersized winger (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) but has the ability to score and can play in any situation.

— Player reaction: "Pretty exciting to get [drafted by the] Blackhawks, one of my favorites teams in the NHL."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He has great instincts around the net, he has a really good stick in traffic. I think if you look and track his goals you'll find they're goal scorers goals. He gets in the dirt, he's not afraid and he's just got a really great release."

Round 4, pick 120: Philipp Kurashev, forward

— What you need to know: Kurashev, 18, recorded 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 59 games for the Québec Remparts of the QMJHL, and added one goal and four assists in six postseason contests. He also scored a goal and added two assists in five games with Switzerland during the Under-20 World Junior Championship.

— Scouting report: Kurashev is 6-foot-0, 190 pounds and is known to be a smooth skater who can blow past defenders during odd-man rushes. There are concerns about his effort level, but the package is there and that's what attracted the Blackhawks.

— Analysis from Kelley: "Really smart, skilled centerman but he's also really strong on his skates. We thought he had a really good year this year. We think he's better acclimated, we expect him to have a real good year this year coming back."

Round 5, pick 139: Mikael Hakkarainen, forward

— What you need to know: Hakkarainen, 20, accumulated 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 36 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL last season, and added an assist in three playoff games. He was a member of the Chicago Steel for 16 games in 2016-17, where he recorded four assists. Hakkarainen will play at Providence College for the 2018-19 season.

— Scouting report: Hakkarainen is 6-foot-1, 194 pounds and can be an impact-type player and contribute on special teams.

— Analysis from Kelley: "I think what attracted us to him was, when you went and saw him play, he got on the scoresheet but even if he wasn't on the scoresheet you noticed him play. He played hard. 200-foot."

Round 6, pick 162: Alexis Gravel, goaltender

— What you need to know: Gravel, 18, had a 3.38 goals against average and .890 save percentage in 39 games with Halifax Mooseheads last season, and a 2.70 GAA and .917 save percentage in eight playoff games. 

— Scouting report: Gravel is 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, which immediately stand out because it's the kind of size and big frame the Blackhawks like in their goaltenders. His strengths include his quick glove hand and rebound control.

— Player reaction: "It's amazing. It's probably the best day of my life. I just look down and there's a Chicago Blackhawks logo on the jersey. It feels amazing. It's unreal."

— Analysis from Bowman: "Alexis is a guy we think has a lot of potential. And with goalies you have to be patient with them, they take a little bit longer [to develop]. But he’s got a lot of ability, he’s got the size to be an NHL goalie, and I think that’s part of it. We’re happy that he was there and we were able to get him."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He's going to have a great situation. They're going to host the Memorial Cup next year. We're expecting a peak year out of him. He's been a good goaltender. This year we saw him play some really good games. He's in a good spot. We like the opportunity for him."

Round 7, pick 193: Josiah Slavin, forward

— What you need to know: Slavin, 19, had 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) in 60 games last season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, and two goals and one assist in seven playoff games. He is expected to return to the USHL before going to Colorado College in 2019-20. He is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin.

— Analysis from Kelley: "We like the project there. We think where he is on the curve, he's gonna play another year and then go to Colorado College. We just like the whole project."