CHICAGO - There’s a lot of focus on how much ice time gets chewed up by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, the premier shut-down guy in the NHL.
In the Bruins’ last three games, Chara’s logged 103 minutes and one second of ice time, well north of 30 minutes a night.
Then, there’s Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith, who makes Chara look like a slacker.
In Chicago’s last three games, Keith, 29, has clocked 121:02, an average of more than 40 minutes a night against the best the Kings and the Bruins have to offer in terms of front-line talent among their forwards.
Keith played 40:12 in Chicago’s Game 7 win over the Kings and 48:40 against the Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
He is only the second player since 1987-88, according to Corey Masisak of NHL.com, to play 40-plus minutes in back-to-back games. The last was Richard Matvichuk, of the New Jersey Devils, who did it against the Dallas Stars in 2000.
That’s pretty demanding for a guy who’s relatively small for his position – six-feet tall, if that, and 200 pounds.
“Dunks is a thoroughbred,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of Keith. “His conditioning level is at a different level than most players. He’s able to absorb big minutes.’’
Coaches, of course, prefer to limit the minutes of their best players so the minutes they do play are of better quality.
That said, you get to this point in the season with so much at stake and coaches can’t help themselves.
Keith was on the ice in overtime Saturday night in Game 2 when Boston's Daniel Paille won it for the Bruins on a play that started when Chicago winger Brandon Bollig failed to control a rim-around from Hawks defenceman Brent Seabrook.
“As the season has progressed and in the playoffs, (Keith’s) picked up more minutes,” said Quenneville. “He relishes ice time, he loves to play more. I think the more you play defence, it’s easier to play better. He loves playing more, he’s one of those guys, you can’t overtax him,”
The foundation for Keith being able to play this amount of hockey is laid in the summer months, away from the public eye.
It’s genetics, too, but having the genes isn’t going to matter as much without putting down that base of conditioning.
“I like to train,” said Keith. “More than training, it’s preparing myself for the games. I don’t train because I want to look good. I train because I want to look good out on the ice. That’s my passion.
“There’s a lot of other things that go into it – nutrition, fluids. Sometimes you can be in great shape but you can still get dehydrated and things like that.”
Keith said he will train five or six days a week during the off-season – not uncommon among today’s NHLers – and on the days when he doesn’t weight train will do something for recovery.
“I try and do something every day,” said Keith.
The guy thrives on work on and off the ice and said he revels in playing defence.
“I think defencemen are in a tough position,” Keith explained. “I think the goalies have the toughest position. You can be a hero one day and the goat the next day.
“I think defenceman, it’s a real thinking position. Sometimes it takes a while to learn that position. You make a mistake and you’re going to get singled out a lot whereas if a forward turns the puck over, makes a mistake, generally there are four or five guys back to help save him out.
“I like trying to be in control of the game back there and make plays rather than try and react.”
The fact the ’Hawks are playing the Bruins is significant to the Winnipeg native because he is a Bobby Orr fan.
“I had a couple of tapes on Bobby Orr,” said Keith, who had a chance to meet Orr when the world championships were in Halifax a couple of years ago.
“It was fun to watch those highlight videos that he had. Any defenceman has Bobby Orr in the back of their head even if they didn’t get to see him play. He’s a legend for a reason.”
Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenceman, has gotten to the place where excellence is assumed.
That’s a pretty big compliment.
“It’s almost expected out of him,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. “You know he’s going to log a lot of minutes and he’s going to be out there in every situation and he never fails. He always comes up with something. He’s always leading us in some category. People don’t appreciate it because it’s expected of him, but he’s as consistent as it gets. He’s a heck of a competitor, too, a great leader.”
Now, it’s going to be interesting to see if Keith can sustain it as the games in this Stanley Cup final and the minutes mount.