I was pulling hard for Chicago last night, not because I want them to win this series or because I want Anaheim to lose, but because I wanted to see the Blackhawks play the Ducks one more time. Chicago’s hard-fought 5-2 win, which required holding off yet another attempted Ducks comeback, means we get a Game 7, which was the only appropriate way for this bananas series to end.
It was a Duncan Keith game. The defenseman, by now on the shortlist of Conn Smythe candidates, was checked hard into the boards by Ryan Kesler eight minutes into the second period and responded by promptly tallying assists on each of Chicago’s first three goals, all scored in a 3:45 span. He didn’t record a shot on goal of his own, and of his 16 points this postseason 14 of them are assists, but last night was a perfect illustration of why that’s just as good. Watch him double-pump to fake out the entire Ducks D before setting up Marian Hossa and tell me this goal wasn’t Keith’s:
Later on, Keith would protect a one-goal lead with the single best save of the night:
There has been worry that Joel Quenneville has been wearing down his best D-men. Chicago’s two top pairings have accounted for 85 percent of ice time, with much of that falling on Keith. And his numbers are absurd:
Keith has averaged 32:03 a game this postseason—helped by a couple of multi-OT affairs but still 6:28 more than any other non-Blackhawk still left in the playoffs. He’s skated 624 shifts—73 more than anyone who’s not his teammate
He played another 28:35 last night, and was the best player on the ice, and Quenneville says it’s not dark wizardry, just science.
“He’s kind of a freak as far as his metabolism and conditioning level,” said Quenneville. “I think the more he plays, the more efficient [he gets], the more he gets going. Just certain guys, genetically, aerobically, anaerobically, they can sustain it. He keeps doing it.”
Is Quenneville’s unbalanced D strategy, apparently relying on a top pairing that doesn’t require oxygen, even remotely sustainable? If Chicago makes the Finals, it’ll bear close watching. And if they don’t make the Finals, there’s nothing to worry about, so expect Keith and Hjalmarsson and Seabrook and Oduya to keep rolling in Game 7. Quenneville has learned to trust his core guys until they give him a reason not to, a strategy that’s served Chicago well over the last few years.
So: Game 7, Saturday night. Feels like it’s been building up to this, even if this series has conspicuously refused to go according to plan. I will rule nothing out, save the possibility of Keith getting tired. He doesn’t do that.