ST. PAUL—Duncan Keith has become a father for the first time, and already he is learning how to perform on no sleep. Before skating almost 24 minutes—a team high—in a 3-0 conquest of the Minnesota Wild here Tuesday night, the Blackhawks’ world-class defenseman did whatever it took to join wife Kelly-Rae for the birth of son Colton in Chicago.
“He’s 7 pounds, 7 ounces, born on the 7th,” beamed Duncan after the Blackhawks seized a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Quarterfinals with a smothering effort anchored by goalie Corey Crawford. “A whirlwind, the last 24 hours, very exciting.”
About 9 Monday night, Keith received a text from Kelly-Rae that the blessed event was near. He huddled with Tony Ommen, the Blackhawks’ senior director of team services. A private jet was ordered, and Keith was airborne about 3:30 a.m. The flight cost him dearly but the occasion was priceless. Around 11 Tuesday morning, Duncan and Kelly-Rae became parents.
“You always hear that it is special time, a day you’ll never forget, and it’s true,” said Keith, who hopped a return flight on Air Duncan and arrived in the locker room a couple hours before Patrick Sharp scored twice, Bryan Bickell once, and the Blackhawks killed all six penalties while blocking 26 shots in behalf of Crawford, who stopped 25 others.
“Famiiy first,” was the decree issued by coach Joel Quenneville. But Keith said missing the game did not enter his mind because all went well. He was on the ice when Sharp’s knee redirected a Michal Handzus drive past Josh Harding, who later was fallen upon by Jonathan Toews and bowed after one period.
Harding was relieved by Darcy Kuemper, who whiffed on the first puck he faced, a stoppable shot by Sharp, and it was 2-0. Niklas Backstrom, the Wild’s No. 1 who was hurt during the warmup before the series opener, did not appear on Minnesota’s bench as Kuemper’s backup until the third period, in time to watch Bickell make it 3-0 on a rocket from a sharp angle.
Dan Carcillo suited up for the Blackhawks; Brandon Bollig did not. The Wild gladly welcomed Jason Pominville back into the lineup. Mike Yeo, the Minnesota coach with the last change, again opted to put Kyle Brodziak against Toews. The No. 1 lines on either side remained rather quiet, as did the game itself.
For much of this season, the Blackhawks have been made to feel at home on the road because their fans travel in droves. That noise came to a screeching halt here, because this is the kingdom of the Wild in the “State of Hockey.”
But the Blackhawks escaped the Xcel Energy Center with a split and are home for Game 5 Thursday night, a potential series clincher that will commence fashionably late at 8:30 p.m., so Canadian television can have a second game after the earlier opener.
“I might sleep till then,” said Keith, smiling on adrenaline.