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Keith eager to return to action

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have a couple of injured players who may or may not be ready to return on Thursday in Minnesota, but one of them isn't star defenseman Duncan Keith.

Keith's return from a five-game suspension against the Wild is a sure thing after sitting out for elbowing Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in the head during Chicago's 2-1 overtime win on March 21 at the United Center.

"It's been a while, five games, but it's gone by quick, too," Keith said after Tuesday's practice. "I'm looking forward to getting back and helping the team here in the last couple games and the playoffs."

Quenneville said that Keith will slide back into his usual spot on the top pairing with Brent Seabrook, while Niklas Hjalmarsson will likely go back to the third pair with rookie Dylan Olsen after playing well in Keith's absence.

"It was tough," Keith said of sitting out. "Obviously you want to be out there playing and helping the guys. They did a great job and played well. We've been playing well for a long time now, I think. I just want to help out and keep it going."

Chicago went 2-1-2 in the games Keith missed, but it might turn out to actually help the speedy, puck-moving defenseman for the playoffs. Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner,  usually logs the most minutes in the league each season and is again right at the top at 26:53 -- behind only Florida's Brian Campbell (26:55).

It was suggested that fatigue from all that skating might've caught up with Keith last season and even stretching into this one, but he's always denied it. However, Keith didn't downplay the potential importance of the time off he just received -- which, per the current collective bargaining agreement, also cost him $149,688.15 in foreited salary to the Player's Emergency Assistance Fund.

"I don't think taking a suspension is ever a good thing, but you know, I think if you're looking at it and trying to look for the positives ... I guess getting some rest at this time of year would probably be beneficial in that regard," Keith said. "I didn't feel like I needed rest. I've been able to play a lot of games every year, so I don't feel that's a reason or anything why I need rest. I feel good and I feel stronger than I was before, so hopefully it pays off."

Meanwhile, he had quite a bit of unexpected down time the past couple weeks. What did Keith do with it all?

"I just worked out and not a whole lot (else)," he said. "I walked the dogs a lot."

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