Refreshed Keith set to return to Blackhawks lineup

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Refreshed Keith set to return to Blackhawks lineup

Duncan Keith was keeping himself as busy or not busy as he could during his suspension: working out a little, walking his dogs a lot. And he got rest, a lot of rest.

And that rest for Keith, who has played a ton of minutes again this season, could prove very beneficial.

Keiths five-game suspension is in the books now, and he will return to the Blackhawks lineup on Thursday night when they play the Minnesota Wild. It wasnt fun sitting on the sidelines these last five games for Keith, who has had a massive workload these past two seasons. But he said he took advantage of the down time and feels good entering Thursday.

I feel good and stronger than I was before so I think hopefully it pays off, said Keith, who said he gained back a few pounds hes lost with all the minutes this season. When youve been playing and skating the whole season and suddenly you stop, it throws you off a bit. But Ive been trying to stay sharp so it shouldnt be that much of a problem.

The Blackhawks suffered a 6-1 drubbing to the Nashville Predators in Keiths first game out, but that was just a bad team game. The defense made do in his absence, with Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson pairing on that top group. The Blackhawks got through the stretch relatively well, going 2-1-2.

It just shows the depth we have, said Keith, who will obviously go back to his usual spot with Seabrook. I think we probably have the best depth at defensemen in the league, especially with the addition of (Johnny) Oduya. Obviously you want to be out there playing but they did a great job and played well.

Now with Keith back, the Blackhawks will basically be at full strength along the blue line.

Hes obviously a huge leader on this team. We miss him, Nick Leddy said. He makes everyone else better, so its exciting to have him back there.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Expectations for John Hayden in the playoffs

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Expectations for John Hayden in the playoffs

On this episode of the Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Tracey Myers and Pat Boyle breakdown Tuesday's controversial ending with Vancouver. They discuss whether Darling was interfered with on the game winning goal and did Toews deserve a penalty for running into Ryan Miller?

They also discuss the expectations for John Hayden and the tough lineup decisions at forward, that Joel Quenneville will have in the playoffs.

Tracey weighs in on who has been the more impressive goalie tandem, Crow and Emery in 2013 or this year's pair, Crow and Darling?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Blackhawks want to finish strong while staying fresh for postseason

Blackhawks want to finish strong while staying fresh for postseason

Every team has goals it wants to hit at various parts of the season. At the start you want to be strong so you can save yourself a mad scramble to get into the postseason. In the middle, you want to just keep pace, get through that drudgery known as games 40-60.

But what about the end? If you're a playoff-bound team it's about reaching balance: you want to play your best hockey but also want to get your rest and conserve energy for the "next season."

The Blackhawks are in this mode right now. The postseason berth has been wrapped up. They've hit the 100-point mark and still maintain a six-point lead in the conference/division. So with nine games left the Blackhawks will try to get that overall play they had through most of February while being mindful of rest.

"We have [nine] to go and want to make sure we're fresh. At the same time, we want to be competitive," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're looking to play games and in games, if we have a chance to back off a little bit, that'll be dictated by the score, the time of the game."

Entering their last two games trailing by two, the Blackhawks haven't had the chance to back off. They've had to do the opposite. Quenneville has said the team's four-line rotation, which was great in February, hasn't been there the past few games. Part of that could be due to injury. Artem Anisimov has missed the last three-plus games with a left-leg injury and is still expected to miss another 2-3 weeks. The Blackhawks have found ways to win despite that, but want to get back to more consistent hockey.

"Obviously we still want to try to win our division you want to be playing well," Brian Campbell said. "The last [few] games have been OK, spurts and stuff, so we want to ramp it up. There are some guys who can probably back off if they need or want to, there are those situations. It's a good situation to have. But this team's been around, they know how to prepare and get ready for it."

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So does Quenneville. We've reached that time of the season when the Blackhawks won't practice much, if at all. They're playing every other day and their morning skates are their versions of practice. As for in games, the Blackhawks know how to keep their energy up there, too.

"I think just playing good hockey and taking short shifts is key. You're not extending shifts to a minute and a half, two minutes," Ryan Hartman said. "You're conserving some long-term energy."

The Blackhawks are nearing the regular-season finish line but another race awaits them. They want to be ready for the postseason but they don't want to get too relaxed down the stretch.

"It's still the regular season. Nobody's taking the foot off the gas pedal. We're still trying to win hockey games and you want to come into the playoffs with a winning atmosphere and winning attitude," Hartman said. "Take every game one at a time and don't try to play conservative. Play good and winning hockey."