CHICAGO - Duncan Keith is a finalist for the Norris Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's top defenseman. He is one of the cornerstones of a Chicago Blackhawks team seeking its first Stanley Cup since 1961.

But his mouth is how Keith has gained much fame - not by what he has said, but by what is no longer there.

When the Blackhawks were down 2-0 in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, San Jose's Patrick Marleau fired a slap shot that found its way directly into Keith's unprotected mouth.

"A mouthguard is not going to do that much when a puck is going that fast," Keith said.

The result was seven missing teeth. Keith, however, refused to let his afternoon come to end. After missing only two shifts, Keith got back on the ice, got an assist on Chicago's tying goal, and managed to lead his team with 29 minutes, 2 seconds of ice time as the Blackhawks advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992.

Teammates said his return to the United Center ice was inspirational.

"That was a great comeback," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "At that point in the game, it felt like everything was going against us. I'm sure he didn't feel too well coming back, but he did a great job killing a penalty in his first shift back. He's a warrior and a competitive guy."

Known for his speed and skating ability, Keith will now be known for being tough.

"I'm not sure I had that reputation," he said. "I lose some teeth, and I provoke some thoughts about that, I guess."

Adding to the rep is Keith's belief that he was, in a sense, lucky that the puck hit his teeth because if he had been struck somewhere else, he might not have been able to play in this series.

Keith, 26, finished his fifth season with 69 points, second among NHL defenseman. He has one goal and nine assists in the playoffs.

Reaching the Stanley Cup Finals is just one of a series of recent accomplishments for Keith. The Blackhawks rewarded him with a 13-year contract extension in December. In February, he was part of Canada's gold-medal-wining team in the Winter Olympics, where he played alongside Chicago teammate Brent Seabrook. Then he was nominated for the Norris Trophy. Now he will play for the Stanley Cup.

"I just try to play the game hard," he said. "I love the game. It is a privilege to play in the NHL and not take it for granted."

It has been quite a ride for someone who grew up admiring NHL defensemen such as Ray Bourque, Brian Leetch, and a guy named Chris Pronger.

"He grew up in Dryden, Ontario, and I lived [three hours away] in Fort Frances, Ontario, until I was 14," Keith said of Pronger. "I definitely heard a lot about Pronger. He's a world-class player and everything you want as a defenseman."

Keith had some temporary dental work done this week to get him through the series, postponing the extensive surgery he will receive in the off-season.

And what became of the teeth that were displaced? Keith maintained his sense of humor.

"The tooth fairy took them. They are under my pillow."