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Revitalized legs spur surge by Duncan Keith

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Updated: April 28, 2014 10:36AM



BOSTON — It’s easy to assume that Duncan Keith is incapable of getting tired, that his legs can go forever. Physically, he’s in impeccable shape, a fitness freak. And statistically, he’s missed a total of 16 games in nine seasons, all while logging between 23 and 27 minutes a night — always among the league leaders.

But even for the 30-year-old Keith, this season — particularly the last two months — has been especially taxing.

“You know, it’s fun to go to the Olympics, and fun to be a part of that,” Keith said. “But it does [take its toll]. Not only for that two-and-a-half weeks — it’s jam-packed while you’re at the Olympics — but the whole rest of the schedule is kind of ­condensed.”

Yes, even Keith is human. And in the week before and the week after the Olympics, he looked it for the first time since before his remarkable performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring. In a seven-game span wrapped around Sochi, he had no goals, one assist and was a minus-2.

But then coach Joel Quenneville started doling out the days off. And then Keith got his legs back. And then he took off.

In his last 10 games, Keith has three goals and six assists, with a plus-7 rating to restart the Norris Trophy buzz. And his minutes are actually going up — he logged 27:09 in Tuesday night’s victory over Dallas.

With 10 Olympians, Quenneville said he was going to go easy on the practices after Sochi. He wasn’t kidding. The Hawks have held two full-team practices (short ones, at that) all March, and don’t figure to have another one until April 2 or 3. Keith said all the players — particularly the Olympians — have made the most of the time away from the ice as they rest up physically and mentally for another potentially grueling postseason.

“Hopefully,” Keith said with a smile, “they see this and they keep giving us days off.”

Through 72 games, Keith has six goals and 51 assists, with a plus-24 rating. He had 14 goals and 55 assists in his Norris Trophy-winning season of 2009-10, and he faces stiff competition for the award this year in Boston’s Zdeno Chara (whom he’ll face Thursday night in the Hawks’ first game at TD Garden since winning the Stanley Cup there last June), Nashville’s Shea Weber and Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen.

But Quenneville, as he’s said all season, believes Keith is playing the best hockey of his career.

“He’s been at a better level this year as far as both sides of the puck,” Quenneville said. “Game in, game out, he does everything we look for.”

Lately, that’s included scoring goals — three in the last five games. Keith’s low, heavy blasts from the point tend to create goals via rebounds, deflections and quirky bounces off the end boards. But he’s been more accurate lately, and the pucks are getting through as players such as Andrew Shaw, Ben Smith and Michal Handzus create screens.

Keith said it’s harder than ever to find open shooting lanes, but he’s been trying to be more patient.

“It’s tough,” he said. “The forwards do a good job of blocking shots. They have so much equipment on now that guys don’t really feel the shots as much as they used to. So they’re not as scared to get in the lane and block shots.”

So Keith will hammer away, all while maintaining a good defensive gap and continuing to form one of the league’s top defensive pairings with Brent Seabrook. And it seems the less time he spends on the ice between games, the more time he can spend on the ice during games — a winning formula so far.

“He can do things that other players just can’t do,” said goalie Corey Crawford, who benefits from Keith’s play at both ends of the rink. “He’s been great for us.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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