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Zawaski: Duncan Keith Leads Blackhawks With Performance For The Ages

By Jay Zawaski--

(CBS) In all likelihood, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith is headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He's won two Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies and two Olympic goal medals. He's also a three-time All-Star and a two-time first team member of the NHL All-Star Team. All these accomplishments are to date, with the 31-year-old capable of more.

If, somehow, the Hall of Fame committee still needs convincing, a DVD copy of Wednesday night's Game 6 at the United Center should be all Keith needs to get in the door.

In his 28:35 of ice time in Chicago's 5-2 win against Anaheim, Keith had three assists, a plus-3 rating, four blocked shots and pulled a certain goal out of the net in the nick of time. His performance was magnificent, and he didn't even score a goal.

With his first assist, Keith sent a long stretch pass to Patrick Kane at center ice. Kane advanced the puck, setting up Brandon Saad in for the breakaway goal and a 1-0 lead.

Then 2:18 later, Keith found himself alone in the slot. With seemingly 99 percent of Chicago screaming "shoot" at their televisions, Keith pump-faked twice, then sent a perfect pass to Marian Hossa, who put it behind Frederik Andersen for a 2-0 lead.

Just 1:27 after that goal, Keith kept a puck alive at the blue line, absorbing a hit while passing the puck to Kane, who head-faked Matt Beleskey and put the puck behind Anderson. Just like that, it was 3-0 Chicago.

All of that came in the span of 3:45. It was the kind of performance that wins Conn Smythe Trophies.

When Keith was drafted by the Blackhawks in the second round in 2002, Chicago brass talked up his super-human lung capacity. At the time, many wrote that off as a defense for drafting such a small player. Over the years, we've learned that the reports were correct. Keith never wears out. He's never out of gas. In fact, he seems to get stronger as the game goes on.

His average ice time of 31:49 is highest in the playoffs, and the only active playoff performer who comes close is teammate Niklas Hjalmarsson, who averages 26:33 per game.

"He is kind of a freak as far as his metabolism and his conditioning level," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think the more he plays, the more efficient … the more he gets going."

Here are a few more observations from Chicago's Game 6 win:

Unsung heroes

Every Blackhawk played well Wednesday night. They played with a focus and intensity we haven't seen all season. A couple of background players stood out to me, though.

I thought Andrew Desjardins had an excellent game. His two third-period assists helped to cement the victory for Chicago, but his contributions didn't end on the scoresheet. For most of the game, his line (centered by Marcus Kruger) was tasked with slowing down the Ryan Kesler line. After the game, Kesler said he played terribly.

You can thank Chicago's fourth line for that.

Quenneville's blender

Chicago's first-period adjustment of putting Kane and Saad on the line with Jonathan Toews worked really well. However, the new second line was a disaster.

Hossa, Bryan Bickell and Brad Richards struggled defensively. They combined for a -14 Corsi in five-on-five play. They were pinned deep in their end several times, especially in the third period, and this was while spending most of their time defending the Ducks' third line.

When the series shifts to Anaheim, I'm not sure Quenneville will be able to use that line. The home team gets the last line change. If that Chicago second line is out there against Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the results could be disastrous.

What to Do with TVR?

As everyone knows, the Blackhawks recalled rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk recently. Immediately, fans wanted him inserted into the lineup.

Yes, he played well early in the season before his injury. He played well in Rockford when he came back. But van Riemsdyk hasn't played hockey in a month and a half. It'd be foolish to insert him in to an elimination game in a conference final.

With that said, if Quenneville wanted to give him a look in a game or two should Chicago advance to the Stanley Cup Final, it might make sense. That would give him another week to practice with the team and put him in a better situation that doesn't involve do-or-die stakes.

I have no doubt the van Riemsdyk is the best defenseman among Kyle Cumiskey, David Rundlad and Kimmo Timonen, but he has to be put in to a situation in which he can succeed.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670. He will be on air for Blackhawks postgame coverage on 670 The Score following Game 7 on Saturday night.

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