The Chicago Blackhawks are under the gun in their conference semifinal series.
The Detroit Red Wings finished as the seventh seed in the Western Conference and they did not appear to be in the same class as the Presidents' Trophy-winning Blackhawks.
Yet they have the upper hand in the playoff series with a 2-1 lead after three games.
If the Blackhawks are going to rally and move on to the Western Conference finals, expect Duncan Keith to play a leading role.
Keith is a former Norris Trophy winner who no longer seems to be in the first rank of defensemen. He does not get mentioned in the same breath as Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang, Ryan Suter and Drew Doughty.
That's a mistake.
Keith is a do-it-all defenseman who can take over a game with his defensive and offensive abilities. He means as much to the Blackhawks on the blue line as Jonathan Toews means to the team's forwards.
During the regular season, Keith scored three goals and had 24 assists, finished plus-16 and averaged 24:07 of ice time per game.
The goal and point totals may not be what you would expect from a player who scored 14 goals and had 55 assists in his Norris Trophy season of 2009-10, but head coach Joel Quenneville never hesitates to put Keith on the ice during the key moments of any game.
His ability to carry the puck up ice makes him a valuable asset when the Blackhawks need a goal, and his ability to break up plays makes him invaluable when the Blackhawks are trying to protect a lead.
When it comes to courage, few players have ever shown more than Keith did during the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup run.
Keith lost seven teeth when he was hit by a puck shot by Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals. While he would face a gargantuan amount of dental work, Keith returned to the ice in the same game that he was injured.
Hockey players are known for their toughness and dedication, but Keith's dedication to his profession stretched the bounds of both of those characteristics.
"You've got leave it all on the ice," Keith said at the time of the injury (through HuffingtonPost.com). "I felt a chunk of something back there and I figured it was a tooth. It wouldn't have been anything else. I saw some teeth falling out when I skated off and coughed one up. It sounds gross, but it happens all the time to guys. It could have been a lot worse. I could have got it in the jawbone."
Keith is rarely flashy or spectacular, but he is a dominant player because of his consistency.
Mark Lazerus @MarkLazerus
Duncan Keith: "No team is immune to a little adversity. It's just a matter of playing our best game here next game." #Blackhawks5/22/2013, 5:23:42 PM
"He's one of those guys you kind of take for granted because he's back there every night and does pretty much the same thing," teammate Patrick Kane told NHL.com. "Whether it's shutting down the other team, or creating offensive chances, or jumping in the rush, or how fast he skates, or how good he is defensively with his stick … he does so many things that you can name and really is huge for our team."
Keith needs to come up with his best effort now that the Blackhawks' series has reached the critical stage.
Quenneville will look to Keith, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford to lead the Blackhawks out of the muck and into the Western Conference finals.
If Keith can step it up just a bit, Chicago may well escape the Red Wings' grip.
He is a dominant player who lacks the public and media recognition. He is one of the game's most underrated stars.
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