The Kings were up 2-0, rolling towards their first win of the series after dropping the first two games in Chicago and pushing for a third goal to take a commanding lead in the game and swing some of the series momentum away from the Blackhawks.
However, a scuffle in front of the net between Jeff Carter and Duncan Keith cost Chicago's top defenseman more than just his glove. He lost his typical, level-headed cool, and his retaliation slash to the face of Carter will now cost him a night's salary as he serves a one-game suspension.
There is no word yet as to whether or not Keith plans to appeal the decision from the NHL's Division of Player Safety.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a lifelong, diehard Chicago Blackhawks fan and I was initially upset with the apparent "flop" by Jeff Carter after he had just roughed up one of my favorite players.
That being said, it only takes one look at the video in slow motion to see the severity of the infraction—and to understand exactly why Brendan Shanahan handed Keith a one-game suspension for the high stick, for which he had already been penalized with a four-minute double minor.
It isn't the severity of Carter's resulting injuries of 20 stitches and a few chipped teeth—which are actually fairly pedestrian by hockey standards—which warrants the one-game suspension. Rather, it is the vengeful nature of the play itself.
Now, obviously this play wasn't some kind of Batman/Bruce Wayne-type of revenge exacted on a mortal enemy in Carter after years of training and planning.
However, the reason this suspension is spot-on is that Keith's actions were clearly an attempt to impose his own brand of justice on another player—something the league wants to put a stop to as soon as it catches even the faintest whiff of its foul stench.
It is one thing for a player to lay a big hit on an opponent in "retaliation" for an earlier hit on a teammate—so long as the hit is clean. It is part of the culture and tradition of the game—a part I'm sad to say has been on the decline for over a decade.
Hockey players have long stuck to "The Code," a set of unwritten rules about sportsmanlike conduct—both within and outside the rules of the NHL—among players of opposing teams. The Cliff's Notes version: If you're going to take a run/whack/swing, etc., at one of our guys, you'd better keep your head up, because we're coming for you.
The Code has long prevented cheap shots around the league by establishing the understanding that if you take liberties with an opponent—clean or not—a sit in the penalty box will be the least of your worries.
However, in the case of Keith swinging his stick at Carter's face, this is a player deliberately breaking the rules to exact his own revenge for the liberties Carter had taken with him earlier in the play.
This is not part of The Code—this is a dirty play and deserved to be punished. In fact, it probably deserved a game misconduct.
That being said, Shanahan also made the right call in not suspending Keith for a longer period of time for a few reasons.
First off, Keith may have been suspended and fined in the past, but this isn't Raffi Torres or Matt Cooke we're talking about here. He may qualify as a "repeat offender" under the CBA, but he is hardly what anyone around the league—even in LA or Blackhawk-hating Detroit—would normally consider to be a dirty player.
Second, this is the conference finals. Suspending a player for one game in the regular season is a slap on the wrist that hurts the player's wallet more than his and his team's chances at a championship.
Conversely, even a single game suspension in the playoffs—especially in the conference finals—can be a huge blow to a player's morale and a team's overall chances to win the series and move on in the playoffs. Especially with the defensive roller coaster the Blackhawks have been riding this postseason, the loss of their most well-rounded and talented defenseman will be a huge blow in Game 4—if that is when he serves his suspension.
Also of note is the fact that while Carter sustained serious enough injuries to require medical and dental assistance, none of his injuries were either career- or life-threatening. In fact, he won't miss even one game due to his injuries, which may have factored into Shanahan’s decision to hand Keith only a one-game suspension.
To me, however, the biggest factor in Keith only getting the hook for one game was his instant and clearly genuine display of contrition. Even NBC's announcing core of Darren Pang and Brian Engblom could see that Keith was genuinely concerned about Carter as soon as he fell to the ice. Keith clearly understood what had happened and was quickly moved away from Carter by officials while trying to apologize to him as he lay on the ice.
In fact, Keith did get the chance later in the game to apologize to Carter, which seemed to be both accepted and shrugged off. After all, he had just been slashed in the face with a hockey stick and was still in the middle of a pivotal Game 3 as the Kings attempt to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.
As the dust settles from this incident in Chicago’s 3-1 loss in Game 3, the stage is now set for an intense Game 4 Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Whether Keith will play or not tomorrow night is yet to be seen, but two things are certain: There is a very entertaining and heated playoff series and rivalry brewing in southern California, and Chicago's No. 2 will play again in this series. Hopefully Keith and the Kings—especially Carter—can bury the hatchet. If not, the least Keith could do is give Carter the number of his dentist.