ST. LOUIS – Duncan Keith watched as the Blackhawks almost came away with the road victory without him.
The Blackhawks defenseman was wrapping up his six-game suspension, which included that first postseason game against the St. Louis Blues. Despite missing Keith’s minutes, Keith’s work on the power play and penalty kill, the Blackhawks still got to overtime before losing 1-0.
“You want to be out there helping the guys to try and win the hockey game. That in itself is frustrating especially it being as big a game as it was,” Keith said. “But I’m excited to get back and play again and try to do everything I can to help get a win.”
The Blackhawks were close to getting that first road playoff victory on Wednesday night. Heading into Friday they’re looking for a split, something they weren’t able to get against the Blues two postseasons ago. Getting Keith back certainly helps that possibility.
“It’s huge. Not much has to be said there,” Jonathan Toews said. “We know what Duncs means to our team: power play, penalty kill, all situations we could’ve used him in [Wednesday night]. But he’ll make all those parts of our game better the next one. We can all step it up and feed off that energy he’ll bring.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said he will probably pair Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson together again. Hjalmarsson has played with Trevor van Riemsdyk during Keith’s suspension. The Blackhawks’ defense was strong without Keith in Game 1, holding the Blues to just 18 shots through regulation and nine-plus minutes of overtime. Young guys such as van Riemsdyk and Erik Gustafsson gained more minutes and/or more responsibilities.
But at this time of year the experience is critical, so the onus was still on veterans Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook.
“Playing 30 minutes, speaking for myself, I’ve done it a lot of times in the playoffs and in big games. I like playing those kinds of minutes and being counted on. But having Duncan back to alleviate that pressure in some areas, whether it’s penalty killing or power play or even strength, he’s such a big part of our team,” Seabrook said. “Getting him back, the way he’s able to eat minutes and still be productive, is big.”
Keith knows the Blues will try to throw him off his game. The Blues went with their usual method of attack in Game 1 – hit the Blackhawks as often as possible, and they were credited with 41 hits. With Keith, they may even try to get him to lose his cool. Quenneville said he’s talked with Keith about keeping his composure – “the leash is a little tighter than it’s been. He has to be smarter in that area,” Quenneville said. And Keith knows he can’t let the opposition push his buttons.
“Guys have taken runs at me. You deal with it. [Patrick Kane] deals with it very well. Not the biggest guy, but try to find a way to get through that, do what you have to do and play your game. Don’t focus on those type of things. Focus is on the game, competing,” Keith said. “When it comes to the suspension, that’s something I can be in control of and need to do and be smart about that.”
The Blackhawks had everything but the finish on Wednesday night. Keith will be back on Friday, playing big minutes, helping on the power play and on the penalty kill. Keith had the Blackhawks’ first game-winning goal of the 2015 Cup run. He had the final game-winning goal, too. Could Keith’s return be the difference in Game 2? The Blackhawks hope it will be.
“You want to try to get one on the road. If we would’ve won [Wednesday] we would’ve tried to get two but now we have to look to get the split. Duncs getting back in the lineup and the things we did well we can build off and should give us energy with him returning,” Quenneville said. “Let’s look to get even.”
- Andrew Ladd’s wife, Brandy, gave birth to their third child, a boy named Walker Gordon. Quenneville said Ladd is expected to be in the lineup for Game 2 on Friday night.
- The Blackhawks agreed to terms on a three-year contract with defenseman Carl Dahlstrom. The deal for Dahlstrom, who has played in three games with the Rockford IceHogs this season, begins at the start of the 2016-17 season.