"I just wanted to play in the NHL and be part of the League," said Keith, who practiced with the Blackhawks on Friday at the United Center before Saturday's Game 5 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with Nashville (3 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN).
Well, Keith isn't just part of the League any longer. The 26-year-old Blackhawks defenseman was named a Norris Trophy finalist Friday, along with Los Angeles' Drew Doughty and Washington's Mike Green.
Finishing second among blueliners only to Green with a career-high 69 points this season, Keith is vying to win Chicago's seventh Norris Trophy, joining Blackhawks legends Pierre Pilote (1963, '64, '65), Doug Wilson (1982) and Chris Chelios (1993, '96). As he racked up career highs in goals (15) and assists (54) this season, Keith finally started to realize the most prestigious award for defensemen might be within his reach.
"Obviously when there's some talk (about it), it starts entering your mind and you start to think, 'Well, maybe there is a chance,' " Keith said. "No matter what happens, it's just great to be nominated. If you look at other people who've been nominated and others who have won it, it's a pretty special category and one that I'm very proud to be a part of."
"Obviously when there's some talk (about it), it starts entering your mind and you start to think, 'Well, maybe there is a chance.' No matter what happens, it's just great to be nominated. If you look at other people who've been nominated and others who have won it, it's a pretty special category and one that I'm very proud to be a part of." -- Duncan Keith
The nomination also comes in the middle of a great season for the Hawks, who are locked in a tight 2-2 series with Nashville.
"That's the beauty of it all," Keith said. "It's about the teammates and how your team is doing. You get these kinds of nominations or awards when the team is good."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Keith's contributions allowed his team to dominate puck possession and frustrate opposing goalies with a lot of shots on goal.
"Offensively, he rose his game to another level," Quenneville said. "I thought he was complete in all aspects. Looking at his numbers and the way he played, I think he's very deserving."
Back in the game -- Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell got his first taste of the 2010 playoffs in Game 4 when he returned to the ice about two weeks ahead of schedule from a broken collarbone and rib.
It helped the Hawks' offense, which depends on defensemen to help control the puck. It also allowed Dustin Byfuglien to move back to forward after filling in on the blue line for Campbell.
"Honestly, in the first period I was just trying to make simple plays," Campbell said after Friday's practice. "It's tough coming back in a situation like that when you're not used to it. I thought the puck possession game was a lot better by the third period."
As for lingering pain?
"I've never felt the rib, really, except for when I sneezed," Campbell said. "There's a lot of protection around it. The shoulder's going to cause problems probably for a while now, so that's just something you can't get around."
Rope-a-Sopes -- Hawks defenseman Brent Sopel isn't flashy, but excels in blocking shots.
That turned out to be crucial during a Nashville five-on-three power play late in the first period of Game 4. "Sopes" was credited with two blocked shots, but Hawks center John Madden -- defending with Sopel on that penalty kill -- said the number should have been higher.
"They gave him one or two ... he had three in one shift," Madden said. "He had, like, six or seven (blocks) on real honest-to-goodness one-timers. Hard shots."
During that power play, Nashville's Jason Arnott and Shea Weber took turns firing slap shots. Weber's has been clocked at more than 100 mph and has injured teammates and opponents alike. He even drove a puck through the back of the net in the Vancouver Olympics.
Sopel still got in front of it.
"He'll lay down in front of anything," Madden said. "They kept switching sides and just blasting away. He blocked about three of them and the fourth one went just by his face. He's one of the best, if not the best at it."
There's a hefty price to pay for having guts, though.
"They all hurt whenever they don't hit some sort of padding," Sopel said. "The ones that don't hit the padding are the worst."
Standing tall -- Hawks goalie Antti Niemi continues to impress in this series.
After recording his second shutout in just four playoff games in Game 4, the Hawks once again were searching for superlatives to describe Niemi. Madden credited him for the bulk of a penalty-kill unit that's held Nashville to 0-for-17 on the power play in the series, while Quenneville said Niemi has the look of a star in the making.
"Nothing rattles him. Nothing bothers him," Quenneville said. "He looks forward to the next challenge. That's the sign of an up-and-coming goalie that wants more and looks forward to getting the job done."
Tootoo gets treatment -- Predators forward Jordin Tootoo missed practice Friday while seeing a plastic surgeon after he was hit in the face by a puck that was deflected off a slap shot in Game 4. Tootoo received 45 stitches to close the wound. Nashville coach Barry Trotz expects Tootoo to play against the Blackhawks in Saturday's pivotal Game 5.