The Blackhawks start a grueling, eight-game road trip through the West Coast on Wednesday, and thankfully, they'll have the services of defender Duncan Keith. He had been out after a hit in the Buffalo game on January 14 that brought on concussion-like symptoms. His services will come in handy when facing Western Conference foes.
Before his injury, Keith led the team and was seventh in the conference with a plus 23. His teammates appreciated not only that he made a difference on the ice, but off of it, as well:
''He stuck around and really wanted to make sure he was ready when we came back,'' Adam Burish said. ''He was a huge loss. He's our backbone back there, the veteran guy. He's playing against top lines every night. When you miss a guy like that, it's hard. Plus, he has that quirky, fun attitude in the locker room, too. Getting him back will be a big boost for this club.''
Keith's play will be especially important on Saturday's game against the San Jose Sharks, who are tied with the Bruins for the most points in the league. He will need to help stop Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the team's top point scorers.
Wins on this West Coast swing are vital for the Blackhawks, who hit a few bumps before the All Star break, going 2-2-1 in the last five games. A win over not only the Sharks, but also the Ducks on Wednesday and the cellar-dwelling Kings on Thursday, would jumpstart the team for the rest of the trip where they will have to face other top Western Conference teams, like Calgary on February 5.
Keith's defensive prowess and ability to play many minutes will help the team get past tough competition, and catapault the Blackhawks into the upper echelon of the NHL.