Yes, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane quickly come to mind when the team is brought up, and so does defenseman Duncan Keith. However, those three are supported by a slew of excellent players, so the absence of one star does not mean the team has to go into a tailspin.
However, when the player missing is Brent Seabrook and his replacement is Sheldon Brookbank, there is cause for concern—especially when Seabrook can't play at the most important time of the year.
That's the case right now, as Seabrook still has two games to serve in his suspension after his brutal hit on St. Louis Blues forward David Backes. The NHL decided to sit Seabrook down for three game and he was not available to head coach Joel Quenneville in Game 3 at the United Center.
He will miss Games 4 and 5 as well.
Brookbank is getting an opportunity to play in Seabrook's place and Quenneville has not adjusted his lineup otherwise. Instead of mixing up his defensive pairings, he is putting Brookbank together with Keith in Seabrook's spot.
Nobody is expecting Brookbank to provide the offensive thrust that generally comes with Seabrook's ability to carry the puck, find soft spots in the offensive zone and then rip his shot at opposing goalies.
However, Brookbank is a lot more than just a body who is hoping not to make a mistake while a superior player sits out his suspension.
Brookbank does not have a notable offensive pedigree, but he is the kind of player made for a hard-edged opponent like St. Louis. He is tough, physical and not prone to mistakes.
“He’s a steady guy — simple, direct,” Quenneville told Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times. “Hard to play against, and he gives us that [physical] presence back there, as well.”
In the Blackhawks' 2-0 victory over the Blues in Game 3, Brookbank looked like he belonged. He saw 14:32 of ice time, was credited with two blocked shots and finished the night with a plus-one rating.
He also received an assist on Toews' first-period goal that proved to be the game-winner.
Brookbank said that playing with Keith helped him play a solid game. "I'm not saying it's easy, but [Keith] makes it pretty easy on you," Brookbank told NHL.com's Brian Hedger. "He gets back there quick and makes a lot of good plays, and he closes on guys fast. So it makes my job easier."
Brookbank was not credited with any heavy hits, but that is a part of his game that is likely to surface in Game 4 or 5. Brookbank was credited with 64 hits while playing 48 games in the regular season.
While that may not sound like an impressive number, it ranked sixth on the Blackhawks.
Brookbank's ability to block shots and deliver hits makes him tough to play against, even for a rough-and-tumble team like St. Louis.
The key for Brookbank is to know his role. As long as he does not try to make his mark with length-of-the-ice rushes and deep forays into the St. Louis zone, he should have a positive impact for the team.
If an opportunity presents itself, Brookbank needs to take it. He finished the regular season with two goals, five assists and a plus-two rating.
However, he can't abandon his defensive presence for a chance at glory. He needs to leave that to Keith and tend to his defensive responsibilities if the Blackhawks are going to overcome the Blues and advance in the postseason.