When the Chicago Blackhawks face a critical moment on the ice in the third period of an important game, head coach Joel Quenneville is most comfortable when he can send Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the ice.
Keith and Seabrook are the Blackhawks' No. 1 defensive pairing. They are solid defensively and sometimes spectacular offensively. It's more than just being talented players who are unafraid to venture into the offensive zone. Keith and Seabrook know each other so well that they often set each other up with scoring opportunities.
Keith is widely recognized as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He won the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the game in 2009-10, the same year the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
Keith didn't stop there. He also was a key contributor on Canada's gold medal-winning Olympic hockey team. He registered six assists for Canada in the seven games he played.
Seabrook is not quite at the same level as Keith, but he can be a spectacular offensive player while playing quite adequately on the defensive end. Seabrook was also a participant for Canada in the 2010 Olympic effort.
Seabrook was not always at his best during the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run in May and June, but his high points more than made up for his low ones. Seabrook had three goals and one assist in 23 postseason games and was just minus-one throughout the postseason.
He also scored in overtime of the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. At the time, the Blackhawks trailed two games to one and needed to win to even the series. With the heat on the Blackhawks to produce a winner, Seabrook blasted a shot from the right point that got through traffic and past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.
That goal gave the Blackhawks momentum and they would not lose another game en route to their second Stanley Cup championship in four years.
Keith may not have had the spectacular, end-the-game moments that Seabrook enjoyed during the playoffs, but they never would have won the Stanley Cup if not for his consistency. Keith had two goals and 11 assists in the Blackhawks' 23-game playoff run, and he was a solid plus-10 during the postseason.
In addition to being a strong offensive player, Keith is invaluable on the defensive side. He can break up passes, block shots and come away with the puck after winning the battle in the corner. Once he has possession, Keith is an exceptional puck mover.
In a sport noted for its courageous performances, Keith does not have to take a back seat to anyone. He lost seven teeth in a postseason game against the San Jose Sharks in 2010, and came back to play later in the game despite the abuse his jaw had taken when he got hit in the face with a shot.
Keith and Seabrook are more than good individual players. They are the best of friends and know each other's tendencies well. They have been playing together since they both came up to the Blackhawks in 2005-06.
Since they have been playing together so long, there is never any holding back in their relationship. They have enough respect for each other to call it like they see it. In some ways, the pair is hockey's version of the Odd Couple because they often verbally jab each other.
"If Dunc's having a tough game, I know I can rip on him or tell him to get going, and I know he's not going to take it to heart," Seabrook told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune. "I know he's going to just think of it as I'm trying to help him, and it goes the same for me."
Their teammates marvel at the way they get along, knowing they don't have to cushion their words or speak to each other with anything but blunt honesty.
"They have a unique relationship, for sure," said Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya. "They know each other in and out and they complement each other in a lot of ways both on and off the ice. It's one of those things where the chemistry is just right. It's almost like they're meant to be 'D' partners together for a long time."
The two Blackhawks defenseman have played eight seasons together. Seabrook is under contract for three more seasons, while Chicago has locked up Keith through the 2022-23 season.
While many things could change, there is a chance that the Blackhawks' top pair could stay together for at least five more years.
That would be a remarkable achievement.
However, neither players is looking to set records by playing together. They want more Stanley Cups. If they keep playing as impactfully as they have played already, they have a good chance to make that goal an accomplishment.
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