The Chicago Blackhawks are going to be shorthanded on the blue line Thursday night. A few seconds of questionable judgement is going to cost Duncan Keith Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
It may just end up costing the 'Hawks much more than that.
Keith was given a one-game suspension by the NHL Wednesday afternoon following a hearing via phone call. The discipline was the result of a high stick to the face of Jeff Carter in the second period of Los Angeles' 3-1 victory over Chicago in Game 3 Tuesday.
Keith's infraction was penalized on the ice. There was no question that the play would be subject to some sort of league sanctions. It was just a matter of what price Keith and the Blackhawks would pay.
There really isn't much to argue about, here. Intent or provocation is moot. Keith took a wild swing with his stick and hit a fellow player in the face. This part of the case is open and shut. If any Kings player had hit Keith in such fashion, 'Hawks fans would expect nothing less.
Add in the fact that Keith has been suspended for such retaliatory acts in the past, and there is little that can sway the NHL's Department of Player Safety from invoking the game off. If Brendan Shanahan wants to eliminate head shots, this call had to be made.
Coach Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks can weigh in on the suspension in any matter they choose. The bottom line is that talk isn't bringing Keith back to the ice Thursday night.
The big question is how the Chicago defense is going to be affected. It may be worse than you think.
First off, losing Keith means losing the guy who has been as good a defenseman as the 'Hawks have had in the postseason. He's a huge-minute player who will be unavailable as the 'Hawks attempt to take a road game in this series.
Keith has solidified Brent Seabrook since the two were reunited during the Detroit series. Keith being out is going to have an effect on all the remaining defensemen. By the way, just who will those defenseman be?
Niklas Hjalmarsson, who you could argue has been right up there with Keith as strong defenders in the playoffs, took a slap shot off of his left knee in Game 3. If Hjalmarsson can't go for some reason, the blue line is stretched a mite thin.
I would assume that Sheldon Brookbank replaces Keith in the lineup Thursday. If Hjalmarsson is also a scratch, that would leave Steve Montador or possibly Ryan Stanton to suit up against the Kings.
Brookbank hasn't appeared in the playoffs. Montador hasn't appeared in an NHL game in over a year. Stanton, who could be a good fit due to his rugged, defensive style, has one game of NHL experience. None is going to come in and play 25 minutes in the style of Keith.
Keith's absence alone is going to have a substantial impact on Game 4. That impact will be even more evident if Hjalmarsson isn't able to go. Keith's temper could well cost Chicago a chance to come out of Los Angeles with a win Thursday.
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