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Keith logging major minutes for Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith didn't participate in the morning skate Wednesday at United Center.

Keith was hit hard by St. Louis Blues forward Steve Ott near the boards in the defensive zone with 5:35 left in the third period of Game 3, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said his top defenseman is fine to play in a big Game 4 of a Western Conference First Round series on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-MW, CSN-CH).

Keith's ice time is up from the regular season for the second straight year, much how it was during the Blackhawks' run to the 2013 Stanley Cup, but if there's anybody who can absorb that much it's him.

"Well, he's a superhuman," Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said after the skate. "He has, obviously, physical abilities that a lot of guys don't have. He has that intensity and he can still match that with playing a lot of minutes. His lung capacity and ability to process oxygen is unbelievable. So being the skilled, competitive player that he is, and being able to have that physical edge too, I think that's why he's the top [defenseman] in the game."

Through the first three games, Keith has averaged 32:10. That ranks second in the NHL for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs behind the 32:47 per game of St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

Those figures were inflated by triple overtime in Game 1 at Scottrade Center, when Pietrangelo played 44:08 and Keith logged 40:59, but neither was backed off much in Game 2 or Game 3.

Keith played 28:06 in Game 2, another loss in overtime, then 27:27 in Chicago's Game 3 victory in regulation. He has a goal and assist with a plus-1 rating.

"I think the nicest term would be he's a freak, just in that aspect," Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy said. "It amazes me how he can just play and play and play. He can have a minute-and-a-half shift and then come off the ice, and then there'll be a power play and he'll be right back out there, just like that. I don't know how he does it."

It's partly by design the past two seasons. Quenneville has reduced Keith's ice time during the regular season a couple minutes per game then increased it in the playoffs.

Last season, Keith ranked 24th in the NHL with 24:06 in the regular season before ranking fifth with 27:27 a game in the postseason. This season, Keith ranked 15th in the League with 24:38 a game in the regular season before averaging about eight minutes more through the first three games of this best-of-7 series.

"He's got, I guess I would say, high VO2 [lung] capability, as far as [playing] in big minutes and he doesn't have the wear and tear on him in the course of a game or in the course of the playoffs," said Quenneville, a former NHL defenseman. "I think a lot of defensemen, the more you play the better you play and the better you feel. You really get into the game more, and I'm sure a guy like [Keith] would rather play more as well."

The Blackhawks lineup appears to be the same as it was in Game 3. Right wing Patrick Kane was on the top line with captain Jonathan Toews and left wing Bryan Bickell during line rushes and the remaining lines were the same. Goaltender Corey Crawford will start.

Here are the projected lineups:


Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane

Patrick Sharp - Michal Handzus - Marian Hossa

Kris Versteeg - Andrew Shaw - Brandon Saad

Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Sheldon Brookbank

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Brent Seabrook (suspension), Jeremy Morin, Peter Regin, David Rundblad, Joakim Nordstrom, Klas Dahlbeck

Injured: Nikolai Khabibulin (shoulder surgery)


Steve Ott - Alexander Steen - T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz - Vladimir Sobotka - Vladimir Tarasenko

Derek Roy - Patrik Berglund - Adam Cracknell

Chris Porter - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Jordan Leopold - Roman Polak

Ryan Miller

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Ian Cole, Carlo Colaiacovo, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Niklas Lundstrom

Injured: David Backes (upper body), Brenden Morrow (foot)

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