LOS ANGELES – Coach Joel Quenneville “didn’t want to go there” when asked what the Chicago Blackhawks would do if – if – Duncan Keith was suspended for his high stick on Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Quenneville during his press conference, which came several hours before the league suspended Keith for tomorrow’s Game 4 against the Los Angeles Kings. Well, what most of us figured would happen happened, and now the Blackhawks are going to have to make do without their top defenseman.
Keith is out, and Sheldon Brookbank will draw in as the Blackhawks try to re-establish their two-game Western Conference Final lead over the Kings tomorrow night at the Staples Center.
What started as a tough task – considering the Kings’ home record – got tougher with the Norris Trophy winner’s suspension. Keith let emotions get the best of him. Yes, Carter did slash him and something should have been called on that. But it wasn’t, and Keith’s choice of retaliation put his team on a four-minute penalty kill and now denies them his services for a game.
It’s not just the fact that Keith plays top minutes. It’s what he does during those minutes: power-play time, penalty kill time, all-around play. It’s going to be a big void, and the Blackhawks will do their best to fill it.
“That’s been our strength all season, the depth on the blue line. If something happens, Brookbank will come in and play well. And all the other D men will have to step up a little more,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said, again, prior to the suspension announcement. “We’ll see what happens. We have a good enough D core to play.”
The Blackhawks will miss his leadership qualities, too.
“Duncs has been, ever since I got up here, outstanding,” Hjalmarsson said. “He’s just a big leader for us on and off the ice. His consistency is something that stands out for me. As a defenseman coming up here my first year, I learned a lot from him. Obviously he’s one of the best D-men in the league and he’s been a huge part of our team and our success so far.”
And Keith has played well this postseason. In 15 games he has a goal and nine assists and is a plus-5. The Blackhawks will miss that, as well as his ability to get the puck moving.
“Duncs is important in all areas,” Quenneville said. “You talk about special teams, big minutes, how we defend, how we get activated on the back end, his leadership and compete level. He’s everything you want in a defenseman.”
But Keith will be an observer, not a participant, on Thursday night. The Blackhawks already faced a tough task in a Kings team that has been great on home ice this regular season and postseason. That task just got a little trickier.