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Blackhawks Thu May 28 2015

Blackhawks Force Game 7 on Shoulders of Duncan Keith

Chicago BlackhawksThere was something about going into Wednesday night's Game 6 that felt different for a Blackhawks team looking to avoid elimination on its home ice at the United Center. The Hawks have been circling the waters around these Ducks the previous five games, looking to strike and draw blood with not merely a flesh wound, but to devour their opponent, but haven't quite found the right gear to do so.

Some bad turnovers, line experimentations and a sub-par power play have kept the Ducks along and above water -- not to mention the Ducks' size and quickness to choke out a lot of shot attempts. It's been a back-and-forth series thus far, and after a 5-2 win to even things out, there's no doubt Saturday's Game 7 will be no different.

When the Hawks have been down in this series, they appear to be skating with a hockey organ strapped to their backs. When they find a groove, it's due to their all-world defenseman Duncan Keith, strapping his teammates to his shoulders to lead the way on both ends of the ice, much like he did in Game 6.

Keith's efforts on the ice are seamless. It's one thing to watch the creativity of Patrick Kane handle the puck and score, kind of like how he nearly broke the ankles of Matt Beleskey to score the Hawks' third goal of the evening.

Or to marvel at how Marian Hossa, the elder statesman on the ice in Game 6, was able to sniff out an opening on the weak side of goalie Frederik Andersen, to take a lightning-quick pass and knock it home. Or how about the electrifying 22-year-old Brandon Saad found the middle lane of open ice and scored the game's first goal on a breakaway, which opened up the scoring run for the Hawks.

The list goes on and on with this team, but the man who created all three of those chances just mentioned was the two-time Norris Trophy winner in Keith. As random as the game of hockey can be with puck bounces and post hits, Keith manages to find a way to anticipate where the puck will be and where it needs to be placed.

Take for instance early in the third period of Game 6. Roughly three-and-a-half minutes in, the Ducks took a draw in the Hawks' zone, down 3-2 and looking to tie things up. Corey Perry grabs a rebound off of Corey Crawford and pushes the puck towards the far post, Crawford's glove side. Keith is in the area, looks down and out of sheer instinct, swipes away the puck at the very last second before it reaches the goal line.

Had Perry scored that goal to tie the game, who knows how things would have finished. Didn't matter because Keith was in the right place at the right time to add to his career highlight reel.

Keith deservedly earned the game's number-one star (Kane and Saad received second and third, respectively), and has showed no signs of slowing down. The constant narrative for Keith and his linemates on defense are the load of minutes being played throughout these playoffs, especially this series. It matters not to them, as their physical attributes and conditioned respiratory systems are proving to wear down the top lines of Anaheim as this series reaches a seventh game.

Game 7 isn't going to be easy by any means, not simply because of the home crowd for Anaheim, but due to match-ups in favor of Bruce Boudreau by way of having last cracks. Not to mention, the Ducks are looking to erase the memory of losing on home ice last year to the eventual Cup champs, the Los Angeles Kings. As luck would have it, however, so are the Blackhawks from last year's Western Conference Final.

As long as Keith continues to be the centerpiece of action for the Hawks (and Kimmo Timonen remains on the bench with Kyle Cumiskey and David Rundblad, limiting mistakes), on either end, they'll have a shot to advance to their third Stanley Cup Final in six seasons. Then, not only will he help his team lift the Cup, he'll likely sport another piece of hardware for his already crowded trophy case at home: the Conn Smythe.

Again, anything can happen, especially in a Game 7. It'll be exciting to watch as a hockey fan and especially exciting to watch how much further Keith can take his game when all the chips are on the table.

 
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