Blackhawks impress Blake, march on 

May, 24, 2010

CHICAGO -- At the 7:35 mark of the second period in Game 4, the Chicago Blackhawks looked like they were headed for another trip to the West Coast.

San Jose Sharks winger Patrick Marleau had just buried a shorthanded chance to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. And, to make matters worse, San Jose's odd scoring play started when Marleau's defensive zone clearing pass hit Duncan Keith in the kisser. By the time Marleau lit the lamp behind Chicago goalie Antti Niemi, Keith was doubled over on the bench trying to figure out how many teeth he'd lost. (The answer: seven -- three on top, four on the bottom.)

Down two, with the Hawks' top defenseman in the dressing room, the United Center vibe wasn't too upbeat.

It wouldn't stay down for much longer, though.

Chicago's medical staff cleaned up its Norris Trophy-nominated defender, froze the area so he couldn't feel the pain and sent him back into the battle after just a few short minutes. "That's got playoff hockey written all over it," teammate Patrick Sharp said afterward.

By the end of the period, the Hawks had tied the game 2-2, and Keith picked up an assist on the second goal. Just like that, the crowd was roaring and the sweep was back on.

In the third period, the Hawks got a late power-play goal from oversized winger Dustin Byfuglien (who else?) and an empty-netter from Kris Versteeg to finish off the Sharks and earn a berth in the Cup final for the first time since 1992.

Despite missing some time and playing with one messed-up mouth, Keith finished with a game-high 29:02 minutes. If he didn't get hurt, he'd have been up over 30 minutes for the afternoon. That's some hard-core ice time.

Aside from moving the puck out of trouble with his terrific skating skill, Keith was credited with five blocked shots. His defensive partner, Brent Seabrook, added seven more blocks. That's one reason the Sharks finished with just 18 shots-on-goal.

While his teammates celebrated their victory, the toothless Keith said he was planning for a nice evening in the dentist's chair. When you win, those kinds of things are a lot easier to sit through. Fortunately, he'll have several days to feel better.

Here are some other observations from Game 4:

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.