Duncan Keith doesn't understand all the hoopla his postseason play has generated.
The Blackhawks defenseman has been the subject of countless articles and TV segments worldwide documenting his terrific stretch of games that began with Game 1 of the first round against the Predators and continued to the lead-up of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Lightning on Saturday night at Amalie Arena.
“I don’t think I’m doing anything different than other playoff years,” Keith said before the 2-1 Game 5 victory Saturday night gave the Hawks a 3-2 series lead. “I guess when the team goes further, you get individual recognition. I’m just trying to play my best, and I know we have a great chance this year. I want to give everything I can to empty the tank.”
There’s no question the veteran blue liner has done that and as a result is among the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the playoffs. Keith leads all NHL defensemen with 18 assists and 20 points in the playoffs. The 20 points are the second-most for any defenseman in the postseason over the last 20 years, one short of Chris Pronger’s 21 with the Oilers in 2006.
Entering Game 5, Keith led all skaters with an average of 29 minutes, 7 seconds of ice time and led the league with 655:55 of time on the ice in the playoffs, nearly 82 minutes more than the next-closest player, the Lightning’s Victor Hedman at 574:02. He played 29:23 Saturday night.
Keith also topped the NHL with a plus-15 rating.
"We base our judgment on watching him play, his consistency, the quality and quantity of minutes, the matchups (and) how he influences our team both offensively and defensively," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's always out there at key times in games. He's the reason why we win a lot of games."
It is the winning of the games rather than the statistics or trophies that drives Keith.
"If we didn't want to win, I wouldn't be here," he said. "It's just a hunger to be a part of a team that can say it's the best. You see the grind with how hard it is through the playoffs, and that's what makes it so rewarding if you can do it."
Keith is aware he is playing well, but he hasn't taken the time for an overall evaluation. Not with the opportunity to capture a third Stanley Cup in six seasons presenting itself.
"You always analyze things after a game with what you did right and what you did wrong," Keith said. "We haven't accomplished anything yet this year. It's easy to sit back and say, you made it to the Stanley Cup Final and you're two wins away from winning it all. But for myself and this group in here, that's not going to be good enough."
That's not to say Keith isn't enjoying the moment.
"This is what we play for, right?" he said. "This is what we train for, what we work all year for. There are lots of guys in the league who are back home watching this and wishing they were in our shoes. It's a great opportunity and we have to enjoy it."