Blackhawks face replacing Keith 'in all situations'
LOS ANGELES -- The Chicago Blackhawks struggled to possess the puck in Game 3 the way they were able to in the first two contests of the Western Conference Final, and that task could be even tougher Thursday in Game 4 (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN).
Chicago's top defenseman, Duncan Keith, was suspended for one game by the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Wednesday for a one-handed high-stick to the face of Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter in Game 3.
Keith is one of the best defensemen in the sport and critical to the Blackhawks' success. Chicago leads the best-of-7 series 2-1 after a 3-1 loss Tuesday.
"He's a big a part of our team, obviously. To see stuff like that on the ice is scary, but it's obviously incidental," Chicago forward Patrick Kane said Wednesday before the suspension was announced. "He eats up a lot of ice. He's a guy that's in great shape. He never gets tired out there. He's tireless. Especially on the back end with a guy that can move the puck like that, plays in all situations -- power play, penalty kill -- it's a huge part of this team."
The 2010 Norris Trophy winner, Keith has been the Blackhawks' No. 1 defenseman for the past eight seasons, leading the club in time on ice per game each season since he broke into the League in 2005-06.
Keith has a goal and 10 points in 15 games during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He is averaging 24:44 of ice time, the fifth-most of anyone still playing.
He pairs with Brent Seabrook to form one of the top puck-moving duos in the League. Since they were reunited for Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Blackhawks' offense has been humming again, and a lot of it starts with Keith's ability to get the puck out of danger in the defensive end and help start the team's transition play.
His combination of elite skating and passing ability makes Keith a one-man breakout, the perfect combatant to the Kings' chip-and-chase-and-punish style.
Keith's absence also likely will be felt on special teams. Chicago's penalty kill has been brilliant in the 2013 playoffs, yielding two extra-man goals in 15 games -- one of those was when Game 2 of this series, won by the Blackhawks 4-2, was out of reach.
He has played more than three minutes per game on the penalty kill in the postseason and is second to Niklas Hjalmarsson on the Blackhawks in PK ice time. Keith also is the quarterback of the top power-play unit, a job that will fall to Seabrook, who usually runs the second unit.
Sheldon Brookbank is the likely replacement in the lineup for Keith. Brookbank played 26 games during the regular season in a platoon of sorts with Michal Rozsival as the team's No. 6 defenseman.
Brookbank had one goal and no assists. This would be his 2013 playoffs debut.
Nick Leddy could move from the third pairing to Keith's spot next to Seabrook, with Brookbank next to Rozsival. It could be a huge opportunity for Leddy, who has seen his ice time decrease over the first two rounds.
After playing at least 16 minutes in five of the first six games, he hasn't seen more than 15:36 in the past nine and checked in at less than 13 for three straight contests against the Detroit Red Wings.
Seabrook also saw his ice time reduced early in the second-round series, but he responded in a big way to his reunion with Keith, and it is possible the added responsibility could spark Leddy in a similar way.
Chicago's top five defensemen have been incredibly durable. Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Leddy and Johnny Oduya missed four games combined during the regular season. Keith sat out the regular-season finale, and Hjalmarsson missed the final two games.
The Blackhawks used the same six defensemen in each of their first 15 playoff games.
"He eats up a lot of ice. He's a guy that's in great shape. He never gets tired out there. He's tireless. Especially on the back end with a guy that can move the puck like that, plays in all situations -- power play, penalty kill -- it's a huge part of this team." -- Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane
"We've gone through a lot where we're able to play the same game and keep the same mentality," Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford said. "This is just another thing for us to go through. We're just preparing ourselves to play our type of game."
One of the players who normally would be expected to shoulder more time in this situation is Hjalmarsson, who has been the team's second-best defenseman at times this postseason. However, Hjalmarsson was hit in the knee with a slap shot during Game 3 and writhed in pain before getting himself to the bench.
He eventually came back into the game and took part in practice Wednesday at Staples Center. Being healthy enough to play in Game 4 is one thing, but being able to handle increased minutes could be an issue.
"He's a tough guy back there. He's not going to make it look like it is worse than it is, that's for sure," Chicago forward Viktor Stalberg said of Hjalmarsson. "When he's down, you know it is going to be pretty painful. When he came to the bench, I was sitting next to him for a while but I didn't want to say anything because it looked like he was in a lot of pain for a while. It seemed to go over after a while, and I thought he looked pretty good out there today."