Duncan Keith finally getting recognition he deserves

CHICAGO -- It was the eve of the Stanley Cup finals when Dave Keith had a thought that had never entered his head before.

"I did dream that he could make the NHL as he kept climbing the ladder and getting better as a kid," Duncan Keith’s father said while standing on the United Center ice in the middle of Monday night's Stanley Cup celebration.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever visualize him winning the Conn Smythe. Until about two weeks ago and I thought, 'You know what? He does have a shot at it.'"

Oh, more than a shot. From start to finish in these playoffs, Duncan Keith was the most dominant and consistent player over two months, playing monster minutes and making a major impact at both ends of the ice.

His opening goal in the second period Monday night capped his MVP spring, leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a 2-0 Stanley Cup-clinching victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning before a delirious United Center crowd.

For years, Keith has been somewhat in the shadows behind Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane despite his two Norris Trophies.

No more.

"It makes his dad and mom unbelievably proud," Dave Keith said of his son’s Conn Smythe win.

"He was always the skinny little kid; he wasn’t very big. It was only when he was 14 he started to get taller."

And Duncan Keith stood taller than any player in these playoffs.

Just as telling was the reaction of Keith’s teammates. For Toews, the Hawks' captain and the winner of the 2010 Conn Smythe, the recognition was long overdue for the star blueliner.

"Absolutely," Toews said. "It’s about time. We all know he’s going to go down as one of the great players to play the game. In our room, we knew that before the playoffs, but he keeps proving it time and time again. So I couldn’t be happier for a guy like that. It’s really incredible."

The Conn Smythe Trophy was voted on by 18 selected members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.) Keith got a first-place vote from all 18. Clean sweep.

"Great selection, right guy, based on a lot of reasons," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

Keith, however, was quick to point to others.

"You don’t get these awards without being on great teams with great players and, like I said, I’m just proud to be a part of this group of guys who care so much and do whatever it takes," he said.

The 31-year-old played his minor hockey in Fort Frances, a small town in northwestern Ontario, the kind of remote place that keeps you humble and in touch with your roots.

So no, you won’t catch Keith talking about how he deserved the Conn Smythe, even though he played more than 700 minutes this spring, averaging a whopping 31:06 a game. Plus he put up 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 23 games.

"All the defensemen played well, we rotated everybody and everybody stepped up," insisted Keith. "We have forwards that are so committed about playing defense, it makes things easier for all the defensemen, too."

Keith wasn’t ready to talk about himself, but plenty of his teammates were.

"No one more deserving," veteran center Brad Richards said of the Conn Smythe winner. "Right from the first game against Nashville, I saw a different level of hockey that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on my team. Just how he kept doing it and never showed any signs of fatigue. He’s probably the best player I’ve ever seen live. It was unbelievable what he did out there."

Before the Cup finals, Richards told a small group of media that he thought Keith was the best player in the NHL right now. Period. Chicago general manager Stan Bowman told me before the finals that Keith was playing the best hockey of his entire career. That opinion certainly didn’t change six games later.

"To play the minutes he did and to play as well as he did, he was phenomenal," Bowman said. "He certainly deserved the MVP trophy because he was the guy that basically plays every other shift; all year long, it’s tough to do. Here we are in Game 6 of the finals and he does it again. Hats off to him."

Veteran winger Marian Hossa simply shook his head when asked about Keith.

"Best D-man by far. He’s proved that over time," Hossa said. "In this playoff he was unstoppable. He played 30 minutes no problem. Tonight especially in a big game, big goal. Huge performance."

Brent Seabrook, who also had an outstanding postseason, is hard to impress, but he couldn't help but rave about his pal Keith.

"Unbelievable," Seabrook said. "He’s been unbelievable for a long time and what he did this playoffs was amazing. Got a huge goal tonight to get us started and he’s just an amazing player."

And apparently tireless, too. They better lock the doors of the United Center on Tuesday. Keith may try to go for a skate.