As committed as the Ducks have been to wearing down the Chicago Blackhawks, defenseman Duncan Keith has responded with such tremendous durability that it threatens to shatter Anaheim's Stanley Cup dreams.
The Ducks strategized that with repeated hits and fresh legs keeping pressure on Chicago's overworked defensemen, Keith and crew would be gassed by now.
He certainly is not. As his three-assist showing in Game 6 proved, he's thriving.
"We'll try to stick to our game plan of dumping it in his corner, make him work in his own zone … where he has to make special plays to get involved in the game," Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said of Keith. "Players with top-end talent, you have to force them to do things that are special. You can't let them have routine plays that end up impacting the game.
"The world-class players — it's not like they're never going to make plays. He is a great player who makes a lot happen when he's on the ice."
On the Blackhawks' second goal in Game 6, Keith bided his time with the puck in front of Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen, pounded his stick on the ice, faked a shot and then passed right, where forward Marian Hossa rifled a shot into an open net.
"You have to be conscious of him," Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner said, "knowing you're going out facing Duncan Keith rather than one of their bottom four defensemen."
The two-time Stanley Cup champion and Norris Trophy winner — given to the league's top defenseman — also blocked four shots in Game 6 and had a plus-three rating.
Keith has six assists and is averaging more than 34 minutes of ice time in a gripping back-and-forth series that has included three overtime games — triple-, double- and single-overtime affairs. His postseason plus/minus is plus-11.
"Over the year and in the playoffs, teams look at our team and it gets talked about a lot," Keith, 31, said of ice time. "They have a big team, they skate well and they're fast, but those are the type of things we've dealt with. We just try to play our game, use our strengths to the best of our ability."
Two games ago, Ducks center Ryan Kesler said, "No human can withstand" the amount of hits Anaheim will inflict on the Blackhawks by series' end.
The rub to the Ducks outhitting Chicago, 304-209, is that Keith — who has played more than anyone — paced the latest, most convincing victory.
"World-class player who's been in this position before," Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said of Keith. "It seems like he elevates his game on the big stage."
"We're very aware of what he brings to our team. With greater minutes, sometimes he gets better," Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville said. "You've got to win, important game … at that stage, he just keeps going. He's having a hell of a playoffs."
When Bruce Boudreau was asked about Keith's persistence, the Ducks coach turned gruff … and revealing.
"I don't want to talk about Chicago. I want to talk about our team," Boudreau said. "Keith is a good player. What do you want?"
The Ducks know what they want.
"You have to try and grind those guys down," Fowler said. "If [Keith's] defending in his own zone, he can't contribute offensively. So the more you try to make him defend, the harder it is. That's the main thing we're looking to do."
Boudreau kept his top two lines intact at Friday's practice, but shook up the others, moving left wing Jiri Sekac to the third line with Nate Thompson and Andrew Cogliano, and shifting Game 6 scratch Tomas Fleischmann to the fourth line with center Rickard Rakell and Kyle Palmieri.
The coach called the practice "very upbeat."
"I wanted to see if they had sort of some good chemistry," he said. "We'll talk about it again [Saturday], that's by no means set in stone."
This is: Duck players are a combined 7-29 in Game 7s, and Anaheim failed in Game 7s at home the last two seasons.
"We're not a perfect team, no team in sports is," Stoner said. "We make mistakes, but we're always working to correct them. The biggest thing about this group is we don't dwell on it. We learn from it. And when we're not good, we don't pretend that we were.
"I liked the way we practiced. We're going to come out with our best game of the playoffs. There's no question about that in my mind."