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Blackhawks ready for Game 4 without Keith

by Corey Masisak /

BEVERLEY HILLS, Calif. -- When the Chicago Blackhawks dropped three of the first four games in the Western Conference Semifinals, it was the first dose of adversity for a team that stormed through a shortened regular season as the NHL's top team.

Now the Blackhawks will face another test in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Chicago will be without top defenseman Duncan Keith, who was suspended for one game for high-sticking Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter in Game 3.

"Big loss for us," Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival said Thursday. "But it is what it is. We all have to go out and step up our game and be a little better. We'll see what the defensive pairing will be for tonight. That's a big loss, but you have to deal with it. That's the way it is."

The Blackhawks have been incredibly fortunate with the health of their defensemen this season. Chicago's top five -- Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy -- combined to miss four games in the regular season, three of those in meaningless contests at the end.

Their depth at forward was tested with injuries to a few key players, but the Blackhawks had used the same six defensemen in each of their first 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games. It is that depth that helped Chicago earn the Presidents' Trophy, and now it could help the Blackhawks take control of this best-of-7 series, which they lead 2-1, despite one of the team's most indispensable players being forced to watch.

"We're definitely going to miss him for this coming up game," forward Marian Hossa said. "But somebody else is going to have more ice time. So we just have to find a way without him. Definitely it's a big loss. But, you know, we were missing some part of the season some key guys and we find a way to win.

"It's unfortunate what happened. He got suspended one game. But we'll find a way to win without him."

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Sheldon Brookbank will draw into the lineup for Keith. Brookbank and Rozsival basically platooned in the No. 6 defenseman role this season, but Brookbank hasn't played since the regular-season finale April 27 against the St. Louis Blues.

"He's a professional," Rozsival said of Brookbank. "I know he has been skating hard, keeping himself ready. He's a steady guy. He showed it during the regular season. I don't worry about him not being ready. I think if he's in, we'll be fine with him in the lineup."

Quenneville did not reveal how the pairings will take shape without Keith, but he said the plan is to have each of the other five guys play a few extra minutes to help soak up the ice time Keith typically consumes. He's been the team's time-on-ice leader in every one of his eight NHL seasons.

"Well, I think throughout most of the season, the entire six [defensemen] played meaningful minutes game in, game out," Quenneville said. "As we went along, [Keith's] minutes progressed come playoff time. I think everybody is going to get a few more minutes each. [Brookbank] can absorb some minutes as well. It's a situation where I think the way the game is being played will dictate how much ice time. But we expect probably a pretty balanced group of six back there."

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