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updated: 4/23/2011 12:11 AM

Keith has that elite look about him again

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  • After a disappointing regular season, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith is looking like that elite player he was in 2009-10.

    After a disappointing regular season, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith is looking like that elite player he was in 2009-10.


Calling Duncan Keith's regular season ordinary might be putting it kindly.

The reigning Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best defenseman struggled with consistency for 82 games. He fought the puck, made decisions that weren't like him and looked worn out a lot of the time.

Keith opened up on Friday, detailing for the first time how he lost some focus after winning the Stanley Cup last June and had a tough time getting interested in the regular season.

"I felt like I had really good stretches and there was times where I would just -- I don't want to say lose focus -- but was just not really as interested for whatever reason, I don't know," Keith said. "I had good stretches and bad stretches and more inconsistency than I would have liked. Now I'm trying to have a good playoff here and do what I can to help the team keep going."

It was only natural for Keith to have some sort of letdown after a dream 2009-10 season where he won an Olympic gold medal, the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy.

"I played a lot of games the year before and there were things I probably could have done different in the summer to prepare for this season," Keith said. "I like to work out and train a lot and feel good going into the season. I'm not making any excuses, but I didn't feel excited coming back to start the season. I'm just being honest.

"Once you get on a start that you don't like and you're not happy with, it's tough to get out of and can snowball in some ways. You think you're getting out of it and it comes back and becomes a mental thing."

What we have seen in the last few games against the Canucks in this first-round playoff series that has suddenly tilted the Hawks' way is Keith return to elite status.

He was nothing short of sensational in Thursday's 5-0 win in Game 5 with 2 goals and 2 assists while displaying a mean streak that inspired his teammates.

"He's just playing his best hockey," Jonathan Toews said. "We were saying that it's been a while since we've seen him play that well. He was all over the place and there wasn't anything he wasn't doing. He's out top guy right now."

Keith already has 4 goals in the series, 3 fewer than he scored in 82 regular-season games.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville understands why Keith struggled during the grind of the regular season.

"He accomplished everything you could accomplish in one year," Quenneville said. "It's a short summer and he lost some of his buddies and close friends as well (through salary cap moves). I think we were guarded going into the season about the hangover that can be expected or (takes) place. It's real, and it took us some time to gather some team consistency.

"I thought his game progressed as the season went along, but he's really taken off the last three or four games."

The playoffs is what separates the men from the boys, when reputations are built and careers defined.

The Hawks have an impressive collection of big-time, clutch players starting with Keith, Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, who are trying to something special for the second year in a row.

"We have a good group of guys in here who know how to win," Keith said. "We don't want the season to end."