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Keith Return Gives Blackhawks Greater Postseason Credibility
That loss prevented the Blackhawks from moving closer to the fourth-place Nashville Predators or the fifth-place Detroit Red Wings. A sixth-place finish means the Hawks will play the Pacific Division champion (No. 3 seed in the Western Conference) in the first round of the upcoming NHL playoffs.
That means Chicago will play the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks or the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round. Even though the Hawks will not have home-ice advantage, the Hawks are much closer to being at full strength following the return of top defenseman Duncan Keith to the lineup. Keith had been suspended for five games for elbowing Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin in the side of the head.
With Keith's return, the Blackhawks have the puck-moving, play-making defenseman who can upgrade the offense, give a lift to the power play and steady the team's defense. If the Blackhawks are going to get past the first round, Keith is going to have to take charge from his blue line position like he did in the 2010 postseason when the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. During that Stanley Cup run, Keith scored 2 goals, added 15 assists and averaged 28:11 of ice time.
While the Blackhawks lost in the first round of the playoffs last year to the Canucks in 7 games, Keith had 4 goals and 2 assists and his offensive production allowed the Blackhawks to dig themselves out of an 0-3 hole and force a seventh game.
He has demonstrated his ability to make big plays and lead his team at key moments.
The return of Keith goes a long way toward making the Blackhawks a stronger contender, but they will get an even bigger lift when captain Jonathan Toews returns from his concussion-related issues. Toews has sat out 21 consecutive games with only one game remaining in the regular season. Toews has been practicing with the team and if he returns for the playoffs, it will give the team leadership and scoring. Before suffering his concussion, Toews had scored 29 goals and registered 28 assists. He takes a regular shift, plays the power play and in short-handed situations. Toews also excels at faceoffs, having won 59.4 percent of the draws he has taken. He is tied with Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron as the top face-off man in the league.
The Chicago Tribune reported Toews considered returning to the lineup against the Wild. He did not play in that game.
If Keith can stay disciplined and avoid further suspensions while Toews can get back in the lineup and avoid any other injuries, the Blackhawks will have an excellent chance of winning at least two rounds of the playoffs and making it another memorable postseason in Chicago.
Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the NHL for CBSChicago.com and WSCR-AM.
SB Nation - Duncan Keith Suspended Five Game for Hit on Daniel Sedin
Chicago Tribune - Hawks' Toews still hopeful for Thursday return
NHL.com -Faceoff Stats
Hockey-Reference - Duncan Keith
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