Keith opened up about his struggles on Friday one day after having one of his best games of the season: two goals and two assists in helping the Hawks to a 5-0, Game 5 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
Anyone who has watched the Hawks this year knows Keith has not been the same player who won the Norris Trophy in 2010.
“I’m not making any excuses but I didn’t feel excited coming back at the start the season,” Keith said. “[I’m] just being honest and I’m excited to play hockey now. Once you get off to a bad start and you’re not happy with it, it’s tough to get out of. It can snowball in some ways. You think you’re getting out of it then it comes back and becomes a mental thing. It makes you a appreciate having a good start.”
It’s nice to hear that kind of honesty out of an athlete, even if it can be hard to understand. In this case, it shouldn’t be hard. After achieving every personal and team goal a season ago, a letdown was inevitable. Keith played more minutes, including in the Olympics, than potentially any professional hockey player in the world last year. No human being could repeat that performance. Trying to spin it or make excuses is the mistake. But Keith faced it head on.
“I felt like I had really good stretches and then there were times where -- I don’t want to say lost focus -- but not really as interested for whatever reason,” he said. “I don’t know, I’m not explaining it right but I’d have good stretches and bad stretches and more inconsistency then I would have liked. I’m trying to have a good playoff here and do what I can to keep the team going.”
“The difficult thing about it was playing with the same guys for two or three years, you understand the way they play,” Keith stated. “By the end of it, it becomes just natural. You switch half the group, it’s a big change. It takes getting used to.”
Keith must be used to them now because his shots aren’t getting blocked, his defensive positioning has been better, and his passing has been on the mark. The second wind everyone has been waiting for has arrived. Better late than never.
The Hawks are only halfway to achieving a historic playoff comeback, but only the most stubborn Canucks’ fan would say Vancouver is still in control. With the pause button hit on the action until Sunday, many fans in both cities must be wondering how things changed so quickly.
Three things have made the difference for the Hawks. It’s one part inspirational, one part strategy and one part desperation.
“For a second maybe we forgot about the hatred with these two teams,” Jonathan Toews said after the Game 5, 5-0 win. “That sparked it again. I’m not going to deny that that didn’t light a fire under our butts I guess.”
That’s honest and forthright, though it opens the door for criticism. It’s the playoffs. Why did the Hawks need a dirty hit to ignite them? Only they know for sure.
Maybe less inspirational but just as important, if not more so, was the return of Dave Bolland from his concussion induced absence. Called the “glue” by many in the Hawks dressing room, Joel Quenneville acknowledged he allows a coach “to do many things” when it comes to the lineup and matchups. The first thing he did was shut down the Sedins. Then he added some offense and created a third line for the Hawks which even a deep Vancouver team is having a hard time dealing with.
Finally, Keith has mentioned how getting down three games turned the Hawks into a desperate group.
“We’re playing for our season,” he said.
Now add motivation to make NHL and sports history to the mix, and the Hawks should have plenty of juice for the final two games. One more win and they become a national story.
But first comes Game 6.