“I meant to give him a tap but not where I got him,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said in his postgame interview after Game 3. “I feel bad…it was an accident.”
Accident or not NHL commissioner Gary Bettman pulled a Roger Goodell and brought down the hammer by punishing Keith for his juvenile high stick that struck Kings winger Jeff Carter‘s mouth. Keith is suspended for tonight’s Game 4. There’s no doubt he deserved to be suspended for the dirty play, but it’ll cost the Blackhawks, big time.
Keith averages about four more minutes of ice time then the next closest Blackhawks player. The 29 year-old is logging approximately 24.44 minutes per game in the 2013 playoffs. The former Norris Trophy winner was a major factor in Chicago’s league leading defense that only allowed 2 goals per game during the regular season. Now Chicago will try to fight their way to a Game 4 victory without their most important defenseman.
32 year old defenseman Sheldon Brookbank figures to be the next defender up in head coach Joe Quenneville’s rotation, but you never know with Quenneville. Brookbank hasn’t played a single minute this post season and only appeared in 26 games for the Blackhawks during the regular season. Brookbank will have an important part in tonight’s game if he’s in the lineup. Expect the coaching staff to give guys like Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Nick Leddy a heavier workload tonight because Chicago has to find a way to replace Keith on the power play and penalty kill units.
Keith’s loss comes as a big blow for a team whose super-stars haven’t been performing up to expectations this post season. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the faces of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise. Kane and Toews have both had subpar postseasons thus far.
Kane has the skills to razzle and dazzle just about any opponent. His puck handling is out of this world. The former first overall pick, has one of the best skillsets in the NHL but he’s been struggling to find the back of the net this postseason. Kane only has two goals and they came in Game 2 and 3 losses to Detroit in the second round. Otherwise he’s been piling up the assists. The Blackhawks need Kane to pick up his goal scoring like he did during the regular season. Kane was fifth in total points this season with 55. He led the team in goals with 23 and assists with 32.
It seems like the physical postseason play by Minnesota, Detroit, and Los Angeles has impacted the all-star forward’s performance. Kane has looked hesitant at times in this series. The 24 year old superstar had a couple good chances on net in the first three games but he’s been too patient. He’s been waiting for Jonathan Quick to make his first move, instead of just ripping his shot. That’s not Kane’s style. Grant it, Quick is a great goalie, but Kane is also a great offensive player. Where’s his swagger? Where’s the guy who would score goals on circus shots making them look routine? Well, Chicago is still waiting to see him. The Blackhawks need Kane to step up tonight with the absence of Keith.
Captain serious hasn’t looked like himself for much of this postseason either. Teams have been targeting Toews with physical play and it has gotten under his skin. Toews frustrations were evident in Game 4 of the Detroit series when he committed three penalties in a span of 5 minutes and 34 seconds. To his credit, the 2010 Conn Smythe winner did bounce back in that series to record a goal and two assists in Chicago’s three straight victories. But he hasn’t looked like the player he was in Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup run.
Both Kane and Toews have tallied just one assist each so far in the Western Conference Finals. The two have combined for 3 goals this post season, while winger Bryan Bickell has 7 goals in the playoffs. To put that in perspective, Kane and Toews collectively scored more than five times as many goals as Bickell did during the regular season.
Keith’s absence, Kane and Toews struggles, along with Los Angeles’ eight straight playoff wins at home means trouble for the Chicago Blackhawks. Quenneville’s squad has to stare adversity right in the eye and play their best game of the postseason if they want to come out victorious in Game 4. The odds are stacked against them, but Chicago has thrived in similar situations during the 2013 playoffs. This should be a great contest. Enjoy.