According to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, the league suspended defenseman Duncan Keith six games, which rules him out of Game 1 of the Blackhawks' conference quarterfinals series. Keith earned the suspension after swinging his stick and making contact with Wild forward Charlie Coyle. The NHL's Department of Player Safety released a video detailing the reason for the punishment:
Keith personally apologized to Coyle for the incident, per Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago:
Keith on Coyle: "I talked to him. Apologized. I called and left a message and he called me back, so I was appreciative of that." #Blackhawks— Tracey Myers (@TramyersCSN) April 2, 2016
He earned a 10-minute match penalty for deliberate injury and was ejected. While the Wild didn't score during their five minutes on the power play, they earned the victory against a depleted Chicago team missing Keith and fellow defenseman Brent Seabrook, who was out with an illness.
Lazerus shared Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville's thoughts:
Q on possible Duncan Keith suspension: "We miss guys all year long. I'm not worrying about hypotheticals." #Blackhawks— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 30, 2016
The Blackhawks will miss their star defender, but Lazerus noted rest right before the postseason actually could be something of a silver lining for Chicago:
It's a cynical way of looking at it, but Duncan Keith getting 5 games off before the postseason wouldn't be the worst thing for #Blackhawks.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) March 30, 2016
Still, there's no way to any put positive spin around missing a playoff game, and Keith's absence will loom large.
"One playoff game is very big when you know his importance to our team and the minutes that he absorbs," said Quenneville, per ESPN.com.
In 67 games this season, Keith has notched 43 points on 34 assists and nine goals. He also boasts an impressive plus/minus rating of plus-13, per ESPN.com.
Keith was at his best in last season's playoffs, when he took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP. The Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals even though they largely relied on only four defensemen. Keith played significant minutes and was a force on both sides of the ice.
An extended suspension for the defenseman would be another blow for a Blackhawks squad limping into the playoffs. They are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and will have to generate some late-season momentum without Keith.
Seabrook should return soon, and Chicago also has Niklas Hjalmarsson, Christian Ehrhoff and Michal Rozsival as defensive options. Still, Keith is one of the best defenders in the league and a major reason the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last season. They need him on the ice come playoff time.