EDMONTON – When the Blackhawks won their first postseason game since 2016 on Saturday afternoon, the team’s media relations department was quick to point out an important fact on the roster.
Nine players on the roster made their playoff debut at Rogers Place in the win over the Oilers in Game 1 of the team’s preliminary round series. It was quite a moment for the big group of players who experienced postseason success for the first time.
Monday would bring a new experience for this group – a loss in the playoffs – as the Oilers owned the final 25 minutes to win 6-3 and tie the series. A defeat is much different in the postseason, where the end of a season creeps closer when the losses pile up.
The good news for those young players is there are a fair amount of players on the Blackhawks who are veterans in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That includes three-time champion Duncan Keith, who is leading a young group of defensemen into this round.
For Keith, the advice is simple.
“I think in playoffs there’s lots of talk, there’s a little more media attention, obviously we’re doing these press conferences and things like that so I think you can get a little bit wrapped up in it sometimes as a young guy, maybe if it’s your first time. But at the end of the day, it’s still hockey. It’s something you’ve done your whole life,” said Keith, and he’s certainly done this before.
This week brings the defenseman’s playoff game total to 128 in his career and he’s been apart of shutouts and opponent breakouts. That’s happened Monday night, when a high-powered Edmonton team struck for six goals in the victory, yet Keith knew quickly how his young group must improve.
“When we’re moving the puck, we’re skating, making good plays out of the zone, in the other team’s zone, in the neutral zone, that’s when we’re at our best and the team’s at our best because we’re better with the puck and we’re quicker on to pucks,” said Keith.
To be fair, this kind of playoffs are so much different than the past, with the pandemic locking the team in Edmonton for the duration of the tournament. Yet the veteran’s wisdom hasn’t gone unnoticed by first-time playoff participants, including forward Alex DeBrincat.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been there before and played in a lot of playoff games,” said DeBrincat. “Whether just listening to them in the locker room or just in team meal room, they know a lot about this league and the playoffs so try to soak up as much from them.
“That calm presence has really helped us a lot so far and hopefully it keeps going and hopefully we can get a few more wins.”
After 128 games in the postseason, Keith knows it can happen.
“There’s always ups and downs in a playoff series,” said the defenseman. “It’s 1-1, it’s a good position.”