Duncan Keith and Jeff Carter met near center ice during the traditional post-series handshakes. They exchanged, what we can only assume, are pleasantries after their not-so-pleasant “exchange” in Game 3.
“I talked to Jeff a little bit. I know him from the Team Canada camps, from playing against him a little bit,” Keith said following the Chicago Blackhawks’ 4-3 double-overtime victory that eliminated the Los Angeles Kings and sent the Blackhawks back to the Stanley Cup Final.
“It was good to see him come back when he did,” Keith continued. “But, you know, I've got a lot of respect for a guy like that, for him, the way he plays, how hard he is to play against.”
In his return from his one-game suspension for hitting Carter high with his stick, Keith made himself very hard to play against in Game 5. And while the Blackhawks won Game 4 without him, Saturday night was a reminder of how much stronger the team is with him.
Keith played 40 minutes, 12 seconds, the most of any player from either team, as the Blackhawks advanced to the Cup final for the second time since 2010. Keith couldn’t have gotten them off to a better start, firing a long-distance goal that eluded Jonathan Quick.
“Felt good to get back in. It felt good for the first 10 minutes anyway. But it was nice to see that one go in. I didn't really expect it to,” Keith said. “I was just trying to get it on net.”
Goals aside, the Blackhawks’ defense was restored to normal. And his contributions in Game 5, from that opening goal to the minutes, proved valuable. And as much as Keith didn’t want to miss Game 4, considering how long Game 5 went, the unintended respite may have helped.
“He got a rare opportunity, one of those bag skates in L.A. Let's go,” coach Joel Quenneville said with a grin. “I thought he had an outstanding start to the game. He logged 40 minutes, was out there with a great gap, cut up and stopped several plays with a quick stick. He was over (the suspension) when it happened; he put it behind him.”
[WATCH: Game 5 to re-air Sunday night on CSN]
Now it’s time to look forward, for the Blackhawks and for Keith. It’s another Cup trip, where three springs ago Keith left everything, including a few teeth, on the ice. As he said, you never know how often you get these opportunities. He’ll treasure the chance to return to the big stage, and probably play a lot of minutes while he’s there.
“We know that we're going to have to be at our best and we're going to have to play a good team game to beat these guys,” Keith said. “We're excited to get back there. You don't get back there very often. I just saw on the ticker that (Boston forward Jaromir) Jagr hadn't been back in 21years. These opportunities don't come back all the time. I think we want to make the best of it.”