You have to wonder what might have occurred had Raffi Torres not smitten a sleeping enemy.
Maybe it’s too simple to view his nauseating cheap shot on Brent Seabrook as the play that turned this series.
But if the Blackhawks win two more games and send the Canucks home for the third straight season, that vicious hit to the head will be remembered as the blow that brought Duncan Keith back to life.
The Norris Trophy winner, coming off Stanley Cup and Olympic victories, had been mostly ordinary this season, and at times significantly worse than that.
He was little help offensively and lost defensively.
“We played a lot of hockey last year,” Keith said, admitting that there was a monster hangover. “You play 120 games and log a lot of ice time and then you’re back playing preseason games in the blink of an eye.”
Keith was a minus-4 with a point after the first three games of the Vancouver series, and a big part of why the Hawks were on the verge of elimination.
Maybe it’s purely coincidence, but since Torres’ filthy play in Game 3, Keith has become the Keith of 2010 again, the man voted best defenseman in the NHL, given crucial minutes in Team Canada’s gold medal run, and the defensive leader of the Cup champs.
“It was hard to get it going again, but the playoffs get you going and our crowd at home gets you going,” Keith said. “Plus, you win or go home. That gets you going, too.”
Sure, he has 3 goals and 5 points in the last two games, but it’s so much more than that.
He’s become a force, on and off the ice. With his partner and best friend — Seabrook — out of action, and the No. 7 jersey hanging in his locker, Keith is playing possessed.
He’s edgy, fast and dominating the Canucks, despite Vancouver’s best attempts to remove Keith from the series as well.
Defensively, Keith has been brilliant. His stick is active, he’s moving his feet below the circles and has found his speed leaving the zone.
He’s skating the puck, moving the puck and shooting the puck, things he did so well the last couple years but talents absent from his game this season.
Keith doesn’t want any credit, but it’s impossible to miss someone playing that kind of hockey with that kind of confidence and anger, and his teammates are well aware of what’s happening.
“Duncan is hot,” said Marian Hossa. “He’s making the right choices and the right plays. He’s doing everything well. He’s dominating.”
Yes, he is, and it seems to be a result of the Torres wake-up call.
“We all have to do more,” Keith said. “We’re missing a big part of our team.”
Someone else who’s done more with Seabrook out is Brian Campbell, also terrible in the first three games and terrific the last two.
Campbell looked for a couple games like he has for long stretches of the last few years, like he didn’t want to get hit and didn’t want to shoot, and the turnovers were a reminder of why San Jose had zero interest in re-signing him after they traded for Campbell in 2008.
But as a defenseman you have to take hits to possess the puck and as an offensive defenseman the Hawks need him to shoot early and often.
And in the last two games, he’s done it all. He’s been good defensively, great skating the puck and offensively he’s giving the Canucks fits.
Best of all, he stepped into Daniel Sedin in the neutral zone Thursday night, something the Sedins will now have in mind Sunday night.
Simply put, Campbell’s been great the last two games. He has that game in him, especially that ability to line guys up, and if he continues to play that way the Hawks will win this series.
Meanwhile, it helps that the Invisible Man, Marian Hossa, joined the series, and Corey Crawford continues to play as well as any goalie in the postseason.
But this has mostly been about Keith and Campbell.
They have done it twice and though there’s temptation to believe they will continue, fans fear a regression.
Can you trust them to do it again?
If they do, if they can indeed bring their game two more times, the Hawks will send the Canucks home to play golf.
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