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Blackhawks' Keith unanimous Conn Smythe choice

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- At the end of the night, Duncan Keith was finally able to take a knee.

The Chicago Blackhawks defenseman was a unanimous choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after a 2-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at United Center on Monday that gave the Blackhawks their third championship in six seasons.

Keith, who scored a goal and played 30:19, got on the ice with his 2-year-old son, Colton, and next to Colton was hockey's most cherished prize, the Stanley Cup. The Conn Smythe Trophy was somewhere else while Keith finally caught his breath and helped Colton hoist the Cup.

He is the ninth defenseman to win the award, and is the first player to win the Conn Smythe and score the Stanley Cup-clinching goal since Henrik Zetterberg did so in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It feels so great," Keith said. "You want to keep being a part of these things. You don't get these awards without being on great teams with great players, and I'm just proud to be a part of this group of guys who cares so much and do whatever it takes."

It was a hard road for the Blackhawks' defensemen in these playoffs. An injury to Michal Rozsival left them thin after the Western Conference Second Round and they leaned heavily on their top four defenders, spearheaded by Keith.

The 31-year-old alternate captain led them through it by playing virtually every style.

The Nashville Predators tried outskating them in the first round and failed. The Minnesota Wild tried frustrating them with defensive hockey in the second round and got swept. The Anaheim Ducks tried to punish them physically in the Western Conference Final and lost in seven games. The Lightning tried a combination of all three and lost in six.

Keith was at the forefront in every series, and his teammates didn't forget. They got as much enjoyment out of seeing him pose with the Conn Smythe Trophy as he did receiving it. Afterward, they could only marvel at the best postseason of Keith's career.

"He's the man," said forward Patrick Sharp, who has been a friend and teammate of Keith's for a decade. "He told me one time that sometimes he stays out on the ice longer because he wants to be out there if something's going to happen. He wants to be in charge. With an attitude like that, that's what you want. You want your best players on the ice. You don't want to be dragging them off."

Dragging him off might be the only way to get Keith off the ice.

Among teams that played past the first round, Keith led every player in the postseason with 31:06 of ice time per game and became the fourth skater in NHL history to log more than 700 minutes in a postseason (715:37).

He scored three goals, each a game-winner, and two of them bookended the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins. His first ended Game 1 of the first round at the Nashville Predators at 7:49 of double overtime and his third was scored at 17:13 of the second period against the Lightning on Monday to break a scoreless tie.

Keith put six shots on goal, had eight shot attempts, and was credited with four of the Blackhawks' 25 blocked shots.

Duncan Keith
Defense - CHI
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 18 | PTS: 21
SOG: 59 | +/-: 16
"He's the best player in the world right now," Chicago forward Kris Versteeg said. "Him, [Jonathan Toews] and [Patrick Kane], those three are on another planet. The reason they are is just because of the clutch moments. They find ways to get it done all the time and they did it again."

Keith's goal was a perfect example. After taking a pass from Kane, he sent a hard wrist shot at Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop from the slot. Bishop made the save, but the rebound fluttered in front of him. Keith, following his shot, chipped the rolling puck over Bishop's catching glove.

It was his 21st point of the playoffs, which tied Chris Chelios for the most points by a Blackhawks defenseman in a postseason. It tied Chris Pronger for the most points by a defenseman in the past 20 years; Pronger had 21 in 2006 with the Edmonton Oilers.

Keith, who led defenseman in the playoffs with 18 assists, became the first defenseman to win the Conn Smythe since Scott Niedermayer in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks. Keith has won the Norris Trophy twice and has two Olympic gold medals.

He joined Niedermayer, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Leetch, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis, Larry Robinson, Bobby Orr (twice) and Serge Savard as Conn Smythe winners.

"He's an amazing player," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "You look at the workload he has and to contribute the way he does at both ends of the ice, in every situation, he does it all. He was fantastic. I've never seen him play better in his career and he's obviously won a couple [Norris Trophies], so that says a lot."

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