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Five players to watch in Game 4 of Western Final

Thursday, 06.06.2013 / 5:50 PM / Blackhawks vs Kings - 2013 Western Conference Final

By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent

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Five players to watch in Game 4 of Western Final
Patrick Kane, Sheldon Brookbank, Nick Leddy, Drew Doughty and Jarret Stoll could have major impacts in Game 4 of the West Final.

LOS ANGELES -- The Western Conference Final is three games old and many of the storylines either are untold or unfolding in the wake of the latest suspension.

The Chicago Blackhawks will play their first game without defenseman Duncan Keith after Keith was suspended for a high stick to Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter in Game 3. It's the second straight Stanley Cup Playoff series that the Kings have seen an opposing player suspended for an illegal play; Raffi Torres of the San Jose Sharks was suspended for the conference semifinals for his hit on Jarret Stoll in Game 1.

The St. Louis Blues and Sharks each had the Kings on the ropes but couldn't finish. Can Chicago take a 3-1 series lead without Keith, or will the meat-grinder Los Angeles team churn this into another best-of-3 series?

Here are five key players for Game 4 Thursday at Staples Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS):

1. Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane

It's not a typo: Kane has three goals in his past 28 postseason games, dating to his Cup-winning overtime goal in 2010. He scored twice in the conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings but has been silent in this conference final.

Kane said he's been on the perimeter too much and not played with the puck, which was an accurate description of all of Chicago's forwards in Game 3. Give Los Angeles some credit for making it difficult on Kane and Jonathan Toews, who have zero goals through the first three games.

Now would be a good time for Kane to remind everyone why he had 20 goals in 51 previous playoff games.

2. Blackhawks defenseman Sheldon Brookbank

If Brookbank has been forgotten, there's a reason. He hasn't played since the April 27 regular-season finale, but he likely will come back into the lineup to help make up for Keith and his team-high 24:44 of average ice time.

Brookbank won't fill a stat sheet, perhaps except for hits. He carved a role as a physical, hard-nosed player with the Anaheim Ducks, and he's best served to play a quiet, responsible game on the back end. A mistake-free 8-10 minutes without drawing attention to himself in a negative way would be just fine for the Blackhawks.

3. Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy

There probably should be more importance placed on Leddy's increased responsibility here because Leddy will play more minutes in crunch time than Brookbank will.

Nick Leddy
Defense - CHI
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 2
SOG: 21 | +/-: -5
Leddy has played 13-16 minutes in the first three games, usually as Michal Rozsival's partner, but that certainly will increase, especially if Chicago gets significant power-play time.

Chicago has two goals by defensemen -- Seabrook's series-clinching overtime goal against the Red Wings and Johnny Oduya in Game 1 of that series -- in its past 12 games.

4. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty

Doughty fired a howitzer that hit the post on a power play in the first period of Game 3, and he seems that far away from a breakout: inches.

Doughty has been quiet for a player who rarely leaves the ice. Maybe it's because he's dealing with wave after wave of Blackhawks. Doughty is a minus-3 in the series, but that's forgivable when he's out against a team with the offensive depth of Chicago.

Drew Doughty
Defense - LAK
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 5
SOG: 29 | +/-: -4
Numbers aside, Doughty seems due for a spectacular hit or play. Slava Voynov largely has taken up the offensive slack from the blue line, but if Los Angeles can see some of the star form from Doughty, it will be huge.

5. Kings forward Jarret Stoll

It's only been nine days since Stoll was a non-factor in his recovery from a concussion. Now he's centering the top line with Dustin Brown and Justin Williams.

Coach Darryl Sutter said Stoll was slow to fully come back from his head injury, but Sutter had confidence to play Stoll 17:13 in Game 3, his most since Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals.

Sutter doesn't really have a choice because Mike Richards is out with a concussion, which makes Stoll's worth that much more important to the Kings. Richards is a key faceoff man and plays on both special-teams units. Stoll led Los Angeles with five hits in Game 3.

Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres