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Hawks’ Duncan Keith back in form, turns his wrath on Canucks

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Duncan Keith admitted Friday it has been a trying and inconsistent season for him.

The Vancouver Canucks probably just wish he wasn’t taking all of his frustrations out on them.

Keith has been far and away the Blackhawks’ best player in their first-round series against the
Canucks — with four goals and two assists in the last three games — as they have clawed their way back into contention.

“He’s just playing his best hockey,” Jonathan Toews said Friday. “We were just saying it’s been awhile since we’ve seen him play that well.

“He was all over the place [in Game 5]. There wasn’t anything he wasn’t doing [Thursday]. He was getting into the mix after the whistles. .  .  . He’s been deadly with his shot from the point, and whether it’s on the power play or penalty kill, he’s our top guy right now.”

Keith’s re-emergence has come when it was most needed, with
defense partner and friend Brent Seabrook (concussion) unable to play the last two games after he was struck in the head by a blindside hit from the Canucks’ Raffi Torres in Game 3.

‘‘It’s the playoffs, and we all need to play our best,’’ Keith said. ‘‘I’m just trying to do that.’’

Keith said he and his teammates are having the most fun they’ve had this season, which has helped. This season hasn’t been the kind of follow-up campaign he would have hoped for after winning the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) last

“This year, for me, was frustrating,’’ Keith said. ‘‘I felt like I had
really good stretches, and there were times where — I don’t want to say [I lost] focus, but I wasn’t as
interested for whatever reason. I’m not making any excuses, but I didn’t feel excited coming back to start a season. That’s just being honest.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said several factors went into Keith’s lull: the short summer after winning the Stanley Cup, seeing some of the players he was closest to traded away and getting used to new teammates.

There was also the fact that there was almost nowhere for him to go but down after the kind of season he had.

“It was an interesting year for him,” Quenneville said. “He accomplished everything he could accomplish in one year: winning the gold medal, winning the Norris Trophy, winning the Stanley Cup.

“We were guarded going into the season about the hangover that can be expected [after playing so deep into the playoffs]. .  .  . But I thought we progressed, and I thought his game progressed as the season went along. But he’s really taken off the last three four games in the series.”

Keith said he is excited about playing now and more appreciative about all the work that goes into
having the kind of start that he wants.

Keith is happy to be contributing when his team needs him the most.

But Quenneville said it’s no coincidence Keith has stepped up to help pull the Hawks to 3-2 in the series.

“He knows there’s a big void without [Seabrook],” Quenneville said. “Certainly, he was absorbing some of that responsibility that [Seabrook] brings our team, and he’s a competitive guy. [He hasn’t accepted] the way things have gone along here. I like the way he’s stayed in charge.”

Said Keith: “Brent is a great teammate and a great friend of mine and, basically, everybody in the locker room. Nobody liked to see that hit and see one of our guys go down like that. Obviously, we’re going to use that as motivation. But I think the biggest thing is knowing we were in a bad spot, facing elimination, and we hadn’t played our best hockey.”

That can’t be said anymore, especially about Keith.

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