A goal mouth-wide smile greeted ecstatic Blackhawks as they walked into the visitors locker room following their 3-2 win over Los Angeles at the Staples Center on Thursday night.
Duncan Keith's smile wasn't too toothy, mind you, only because he famously lost several teeth thanks to a flying puck that ricocheted off his mouth the last time the Blackhawks enjoyed an extended run in the NHL playoffs.
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That was three years ago when the Blackhawks brought home the Stanley Cup.
Keith missed Game 4 of this season's Western Conference finals after receiving a one-game suspension for busting open Jeff Carter's chin with a careless stick in Game 3.
That his team prevailed without him was a great high and greater relief for the Blackhawks' No. 1 defenseman, who will be back in uniform tonight for Game 5 at the United Center.
"He was pretty pumped up when we came into the locker room," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said with a smile. "We were all happy obviously, but he was probably one of the happiest guys. He was jumping around and giving us fist pumps."
Forward Michael Frolik understood Keith's excitement, which was mutual among his teammates.
"It was a great win, and if we had lost it wouldn't have been a great feeling," Frolik said. "He was cheering for us in the room. We thought we had to win for him, kind of. It was a good feeling."
Keith leads all Blackhawks defenseman with 10 playoff points (9 assists). He's also a plus-5 and has been one of the team's best players, period, during the postseason.
"He was happy for his teammates (after Game 4)," coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was nice to see him so happy. He seemed happier than the guys that were out there playing."
With the former Norris Trophy winner relegated to spectator status, the Blackhawks' other defenseman, including newly inserted Sheldon Brookbank, all had to stretch their minutes.
Veteran Michael Rozsival logged a Keith-like 25 minutes and 28 seconds of ice time. The 34-year-old Rozsival was essentially a sixth defenseman all season.
"He's been great this year," Hjalmarsson said. "I noticed the first practice with him this year just the small passes he makes. It makes it just so much easier for everyone. You can just see that he's been around for a long time. He knows where to put pucks and he knows where the centerman is in the 'D' zone. He's a really smart player that I, personally, can try to learn stuff from."
Defenseman Johnny Oduya agreed. Brent Seabrook (26:20), Hjalmarsson, Rozsival and Oduya each played more than 22 minutes.
"He's been tremendous the whole year," Oduya said of Rozsival. "We have good depth and a lot of guys that can play those (heavy) minutes. He's a skilled guy, smart with the puck and makes plays."