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Blackhawks’ Keith returns refreshed after suspension

Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 10:44 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — During his involuntary sabbatical, Duncan Keith put on a few. He weighed in at 200 pounds Tuesday, and to demonstrate it was all muscle and the mass effect was ultimately good, the Blackhawks defenseman took a moment to flex in front of his locker stall.

Keith is a free man now, his five-game NHL suspension over and essentially more of a refresher course than anything. His strength is up. His legs are recharged. For one of the busiest blue-liners in the league, that is promising, even if he shrugged it off.

“I don’t think taking a suspension is ever a good thing,” Keith said. “But if you’re trying to look for the positives, I guess getting some rest at this point of the year would be beneficial. I didn’t feel like I needed rest. I’ve been able to play a lot of games every year.”

Maybe he’s right, but the Hawks earned six of a possible 10 points in the games Keith missed. And the player who has logged the 11th-most minutes in the league this season — he ranks second with 26 minutes, 53 seconds per game — got a break while the postseason grind loomed.

No arguing that’s a happy result.

“He plays a lot of minutes, and we asked him to do a lot going into (the suspension),” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “In his absence, the guys did a good job. But I could see some freshness in his stride out here (Tuesday), and I’m sure he’s excited about getting back at this time of year.”

While he joked about his in-suspension workload — “I walked the dogs a lot,” Keith said — eating right and filling out might help him better endure a playoff run.

He estimated his frame had been whittled to 190 pounds at this time last year, and he expected a little extra bulk to go a long way.

“I’ve got some strength back,” Keith said. “We’re going to play a lot of games here in a short period of time coming up, so I think it’ll be good.”

On Thursday against the Wild, Keith will partner with Brent Seabrook in the Hawks’ top pairing.

The obvious trickle-down effect is increasing the depth and effectiveness on the back end — something that could help, given the eight regulation goals surrendered in the last two games.

“Definitely a little less time in our zone when he’s on the ice,” goalie Corey Crawford said. “He makes it look so easy. He’s so good at getting it out and getting it to our forwards where we can get on the attack. Obviously it’s a huge difference when we have him in the lineup.”

Keith will have two chances to get back up to game speed before the playoffs begin. Unlike the last eight days, it shouldn’t feel like a long wait.

“When you’ve been playing and skating every day for the whole season and suddenly just stop, it throws you off a bit,” Keith said. “But I tried to stay sharp. We’re at the end of the season, so it shouldn’t be that much of an adjustment.”

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