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Keith does it all to keep Blackhawks' season alive

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- It was a sequence during Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday that summed up one of the main storylines between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim center Ryan Kesler hit Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith hard into the boards at 7:51 of the second period, and Keith responded by assisting on three straight goals.

They propelled the Blackhawks to 5-2 win at United Center that evened the best-of-7 series 3-3. Game 7 is at Honda Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"There's nights where you look at the score sheet and you see how great he can be, how pivotal, how much he means to our team, especially in these big games," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said of Keith. "But I think whether he's on the score sheet, whether he's making those plays, he's there every night making that difference no matter what."

Earlier this week, it was Kesler who said "no human could withstand" the amount of punishment Blackhawks defensemen were taking in the series. Keith looked at least superhuman Wednesday. Without scoring a goal, he took over a game when the Blackhawks needed someone to step up and save their season.

Keith assisted on goals by forwards Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane for a 3-0 lead, and anchored the defense in the third period with the Blackhawks up 3-2 and facing a lot of pressure from the Ducks.

Keith led all skaters with 28:35 of ice time and finished plus-3.

"He was unbelievable tonight, unbelievable in the second period," said Kane, who received Keith's stretch pass that turned into a breakaway goal by Saad at 8:23. "[He] made some great plays, great passes, and not only was he good offensively, he led the way defensively too. [It's] nothing we're not used to seeing from him."

Keith's assist on the goal by Hossa was the one that had his teammates buzzing afterward. It gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead at 10:41.

After getting the puck in the left faceoff circle, Keith faked two shots to get Ducks defensemen Simon Despres to kneel. Keith spotted Hossa in the right circle and sent him a feed for a snap shot that went past defenseman Cam Fowler and into the net.

Less than two minutes later, Keith knocked down the puck to keep it in the offensive zone at the right point. He passed to Kane for a shot that beat Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen at 12:08 to make it 3-0.

"He plays a good, solid game, but when we needed a goal, he makes that play to Hossa to give us the extra goal and the [2-0] lead," Saad said. "It's huge for us. The way he plays defensively and the minutes he logs, there's really nothing you could say bad about him."

Keith has 14 assists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and with two goals leads defensemen with 16 points. He is tied with Toews for second on the Blackhawks, trailing Kane's 17 points.

Keith has a plus-11 rating through 16 games and is being mentioned more often as a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, should the Blackhawks advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

"I don't think anyone's really thinking about that stuff in here, but if you look at what he's done in the playoffs, he's been huge for us," Kane said "If the definition is most valuable player, I don't see why he wouldn't be up for that."

Keith's combination of ice time and production are unmatched by any player. He came into Game 6 leading the playoffs in ice time per game (32:02) and hasn't showed any signs of wearing down, despite the Ducks' insistence it's happening.

"He's kind of a freak as far as his metabolism and conditioning level," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who is playing his top four defensemen about 85 percent of the time. "I think the more he plays, the more efficient [he gets], [and] the more he gets going. [It's] just certain guys, genetically, aerobically, anaerobically, they can sustain it. He keeps doing it."

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