Western Conference Final: Keith Suspension Adds Chance for Brookbank, Blackhawks

Derek WolffContributor IIIJune 5, 2013

EDMONTON, CANADA - APRIL 24: Sheldon Brookbank #17 of the Chicago Backhawks skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on April 24, 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Perry Nelson/Getty Images)
Perry Nelson/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks were handed a 3-1 defeat by the Los Angeles Kings in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

On Wednesday afternoon, they were dealt another loss, one that might be bigger as the series moves along.

Veteran defenseman Duncan Keith was issued a one-game suspension for an errant stick he gave to Jeff Carter in Game 3 in what turned into a double-minor penalty.

Keith appeared to have his hand slashed by Carter while reaching for his glove, which had fallen to the ice. In retaliation, Keith slashed upwards at Carter, connecting with his face and ultimately requiring the Kings' sniper to receive 20 stitches.

Keith's absence in Game 4 will create a huge hole in the Blackhawks' defense, one that will need to be filled if the 'Hawks want to end the Kings' 15-game home winning streak. 

Veteran blueliner Sheldon Brookbank will likely get the call to fill in for Keith in the game, but there's no doubt the Blackhawks defensive core as a whole will have to fill his minutes. Keith is the team leader in ice time this postseason, logging nearly 25 minutes a game at 24:44. 

While Brookbank played 26 games in the regular season for Chicago, he hasn't skated in the postseason since 2011, when he played for the Anaheim Ducks. Brookbank had one goal in the regular season while averaging 12:45 of ice time.

The Blackhawks defensive core will be stretched and will likely rely on Johnny Oduya, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy to pick up Keith's abdicated minutes, but Keith's absence will provide an opportunity for some of the 'Hawks' better two-way players to shine as well.

Jonathan Toews, who tied for the league lead in takeaways in the regular season, will need to pick up his play at both ends of the ice in Game 4. Already a staple by anchoring the Blackhawks' top line and skating on the penalty kill as well, the 'Hawks will need a special game from Toews, their overall best player, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Toews is averaging 20:28 in the postseason thus far but has yet to make his presence really felt after garnering a point per game in the regular season with 48. He had 23 goals but has only scored once thus far in the Blackhawks' 15 postseason games.

The Blackhawks will certainly be hungrier after looking lethargic for most of Game 3, picking up their play and creating chances too late in the third period when they were down a goal. Toews and fellow star Patrick Kane could provide the answer in Game 4, not only by eating more ice time but also by finding the scoring touch they held in the regular season.

Kane's offense has all but disappeared in the postseason as he has continued to pass up shots in favor of passing. While his eight assists have been helpful, the Blackhawks certainly need him to shoot the puck more after tying with Toews with 23 goals in the regular season.

The Blackhawks need to approach Game 4 with a fresh attitude in the wake of the Keith suspension, and several 'Hawks will have opportunities to step up to beat Los Angeles on their home ice.