ANAHEIM, Calif. – Both science and genetics can tell Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville how often he can play do-it-all defenseman Duncan Keith.
“Dunc's in amazing condition. He's got one of those bodies ... Some guys have different metabolisms, how they can deal with heavy workloads. He's got some of it probably in his genes as well as the way he works out, trains, takes care of himself,” Quenneville said.
Lots of defensemen in the NHL play big minutes during the regular season. But Keith has probably logged more miles on his 6-foot-1, 192-pound frame thanks to Chicago’s success. The Blackhawks have made the Western Conference Final four of the last six years and during that stretch, Keith has never averaged less than 24:07 per-game in the regular season. In the playoffs, his lowest average time on ice came in 2010-11 when he played ‘only’ 26:55 per-game.
Since the 2008-09 season, he has played 103 postseason games and averaged 27:41 of ice-time. He’s essentially turned into the Secretariat of defensemen.
“He has a special, different type of conditioning than most players,” Quenneville said.
The ‘Keith can play forever’ story is tried and true in the postseason, but this year it just feels a little different.
His performance has been more virtuoso than the past as the Hawks prepare for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at Anaheim on Sunday.
He helped Chicago steal Game 1 from Nashville in the first-round of the playoffs by scoring the overtime winner in a comeback. In Game 4, a triple overtime affair, he led all players with 46:19 of ice-time. His shot attempts differential rests at plus-61.
Chicago has its share of stars this postseason as it always does, but has Keith stood out the most? If he keeps this up and Chicago wins the Stanley Cup, shall we dub him Conn Keith?
“I barely see him tired out there. It's unbelievable,” Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “He never takes a deep breath. He can play non-stop. It's pretty amazing to see actually. I can be gassed after a couple of shifts, but he just keeps going and going.”
Part of Keith’s big minutes these playoffs have to do with circumstance. The Hawks’ overtime games lend to more ice-time. Also, Chicago isn’t particularly deep on the blueline this year. With Michal Rozsival now out the rest of the postseason, Kimmo Timonen, who has barely scratched 10 minutes of ice-time per-game is going to have to play more the rest of the way.
Or Quenneville will lean heavier on Keith. How much more can he play? At age 31, there has to be a limit on this guy.
If Keith was tired after the Blackhawks’ second-round sweep over the Wild, Chicago’s long layoff probably should help. Chicago hasn’t played a game since May 7.
Then again with Keith, if there is a max on how much he can play, we haven’t seen it yet. And as long as he keeps having results, why not continue to just trot him on the ice?
“The importance of playoff games, he probably gets a little bit more (ice-time),” Quenneville said. “Doesn't change at all. Doesn't show any effects during or after.”
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