CHICAGO — He isn’t the biggest player on the team. But at 6 feet 1 inch and 200 pounds, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith is one of the most important.
In the past, the Bruins had Hall of Famer Ray Bourque playing yeoman minutes. Now they have Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. The Blackhawks’ biggest workhorse is Keith.
Keith logged a game-high 48 minutes 40 seconds of ice time during Chicago’s 4-3 triple-overtime victory over Boston in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday at United Center.
It was the second consecutive multiple-OT game the Blackhawks played. In the team’s Western Conference-clinching victory over the Los Angeles Kings, Keith logged 40:12 with that contest decided in double OT.
“Dunks is a thoroughbred,’’ said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “I think he’s one of those guys, his conditioning level is at a different level than most players. He’s able to absorb big minutes.’’
Because of the concentrated schedule as a result of the lockout, Quenneville said he made a conscious decision to keep tabs on Keith’s minutes to make sure he didn’t overdo it. But as the regular season wound down and the playoffs started, Keith’s minutes increased.
“As the season has progressed and in the playoffs, he’s picked up more minutes,’’ said Quenneville. “He relishes ice time, he loves to play more. I think the more you play defense, it’s easier to play better. He loves playing more, he’s one of those guys, you can’t overtax him.’’
Keith downplayed his heavy workload, although he said playing so many extra minutes the past two games has made for long nights.
“Obviously, it’s a long game,’’ said Keith. “I feel comfortable, I take good care of myself. We’ve got good trainers and everybody steers us in the right direction so I’ll be ready to go.’’
Keith has long been a key contributor in terms of chewing up minutes and he said he has grown used to it over the years.
“I don’t really think about it too much, to be honest with you,’’ said Keith, who turns 30 next month. “I’m just out there playing the game. I’ve played a lot of minutes my whole life even as a kid growing up. So I want to be out on the ice. I think everybody likes to be on the ice a lot. Obviously, 40-plus minutes is a lot, but we don’t want to have to play those type of minutes every game. But you take it as it comes.’’
During the regular season, Keith averaged 24:07 of ice time per game. During the first 15 playoff games, he logged north of 25 minutes in seven. In Game 4 of the conference semifinals against Detroit, he played 30:02.
Keith was forced to take a one-game hiatus in Game 4 against the Kings as a result of a suspension for high-sticking Los Angeles’s Jeff Carter in the face.
He has made up for the missed time by playing 88:52 over the last two contests.
In order to play those minutes, there is a fair amount of maintenance of which Keith has to be mindful, whether it’s time spent in the weight room or focusing on certain nutritional requirements.
“It’s not just going on the ice and playing,’’ he said. “There’s a lot that goes into it.’’
As much as the extra day off following Game 1 helped both teams recover from the 112:08 marathon, Keith said the Blackhawks were ready to turn the page and focus on Saturday night’s Game 2.
The Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010, but there was a time at the start of Keith’s career when the cupboard was bare in terms of team achievement and even fans. It took time to put a winner on the ice.
“I always thought you play in the NHL to win a Stanley Cup,’’ said Keith. “We’re at a level now where we can be contenders year in and year out.’’
Keith said because that wasn’t always the case, he appreciates it more because he was in on the ground floor of an up-and-coming franchise as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews began coming into their own.
“I was just excited to get an opportunity,’’ said Keith. “We had good coaches and a good group of guys in the dressing room. We had a lot of good leaders on that [earlier] team with Marty Lapointe and Adrian Aucoin. It was very comfortable.’’
Keith said the attention that has come with success wasn’t always there.
“It was a little different obviously early on,’’ he said. “I remember sitting up in the stands during our exhibition games if we weren’t playing. Nobody would know who you are, nobody would care. We’d be sitting there with our suits on, it was kind of embarrassing. It’s nice, it’s definitely a good feeling now.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.