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With Keith out, Brookbank in for Blackhawks

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For nearly six weeks, Sheldon Brookbank has been skating, practicing, working, just in case.

Now's his chance.

"I had to tell Brooksie a coupe of times, 'Be patient, you're going to get an opportunity, and i could be at the most critical time of the playoffs,'" Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's a critical time now. Commend him on his patience, his approach, knowing he deserves to be playing. It's nice to see him get a chance. "

Brookbank will be in the Hawks lineup for the first time since the season finale on April 27 at St. Louis, filling in for Duncan Keith, who was suspended for tonight's Game 4 for his high-sticking incident on Kings forward Jeff Carter in Game 3. He's well rested, but is he rusty?

"I just tried to stay focused as much as I could and just be prepared for the time when they need me," Brookbank said. "Duncan's playing really good right now, he's pretty much our top D-man at this point, so we definitely don't want him to get suspended. But t's definitely an opportunity for me. It's something where I'll just do my best to make the most of."

Brookbank played 26 games during the regular season in a rotation with Michal Rozsival, scoring one goal with no assists and a minus-1 rating.

"He's a professional," Rozsival said. "I know he's been skating hard, been keeping himself ready. He's a steady guy. I don't worry about him not being ready. We'll be fine with him in the lineup."

The Hawks' primary reaction to Keith's suspension -- Marian Hossa said he learned about it from his TSN "phone application" -- was that they had the depth to withstand the blow, even though Keith is their ice-time leader, and plays in all situations.

"He's a big part of the team and he's playing a lot of minutes, playing in key situations on the ice, the power play, penalty-killing," Rozsival said. "We just have to deal with it. It's part of it, whether it's injury or suspension. If we get through this it's going to make us stronger."

Meanwhile, the Kings will once again be without forward Mike Richards, still feeling the effects of Dave Bolland's hit late in Game 1.

Duncan Keith said it was an accident. The NHL felt otherwise.

The league suspended Keith for Thursday night's Game 4 of the Western Conference final for his high-stick of Kings forward Jeff Carter. Keith admitted to trying to hit Carter as retaliation for a slash on his unprotected hand as he reached down to grab his glove in Game 3, but said he wasn't trying to hit him in the face. But Carter needed 21 stitches to close the cut Keith gave him, and had some dental damage.

"This is more serious than a case of a player simply having to be responsible for his stick," said NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan. "It is not an accidental high stick, nor is it a defensive high stick to an opponent. This is a retaliatory high stick to an opponent that causes an injury."

Added Shanahan: "Even if Carter did chop down on Keith's hand, that still does not justify the extent of Keith's actions."

The league also labeled Keith a "repeat offender," as he was suspended five games for an elbow to Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin's head last March.

Keith had a hearing over the phone to plead his case earlier in the day.

"It was just a normal hearing with Shanahan," Keith said before the ruling came out. "It is what it is now. Out of my control.

"We've had a hearing and I said my piece and said the same thing last night. It was an accident. I didn't mean to get him where I got him."

Earlier Wednesday morning, Carter said he had moved on from the incident, and that the Kings weren't worried about the potential ruling.

''We were battling in front of the net, up the ice and ... uh, I think I took a swing at his glove there when he was trying to pick it up,'' Carter said. ''I was in front of him. The next thing I knew, I was getting a stick to the face. ... Obviously if he does get suspended it's a huge loss for their team. He's a big part of their team."

Without Keith, Sheldon Brookbank will play for the first time since the season finale on April 27 at St. Louis.

"I guess it's kind of like you're on call," Brookbank said earlier in the day. "You've got to stay ready and wait to hear the word if you're needed or not. I've been trying to say with it all playoffs anyways. Stay prepared. It's tough. It's not the ideal situation, but at the same point, that's why you have extra players. If you're going to go on a run, at some point guys are going to be needed."

Kings forward Jeff Carter said he needed 21 stitches for cuts he received after Duncan Keith high-sticked him in the face in Game 3, but already was moving on.

''There are bigger things to worry about,'' Carter said Wednesday at the Kings' practice facility. ''We're in a fight here and down two games to one. I don't think that [incident] is on our minds.''

Though television replays showed him ignoring Keith's attempt to apologize, Carter indicated he heard it.

''The video [showed] that I blew him off, but if you watched, I said something back to him,'' Carter said.

Does he buy Keith's apology?

''It is what it is. It's over with,'' Carter said. ''We've got a pretty big game tomorrow to worry about. I'm not too worried about the suspension.''

Carter acknowledged that he instigated the incident by taking a whack at Keith's hand as they battled up the ice.

''We were battling in front of the net, up the ice and ... uh, I think I took a swing at his glove there when he was trying to pick it up,'' Carter said. ''I was in front of him. The next thing I knew, I was getting a stick to the face.''

He also had no opinion on whether Keith should be suspended for the incident.

''That's up to Brendan [Shanahan, the NHL's director of player safety],'' Carter said. ''Whatever he thinks he thinks, who's right is what's going to happen. Obviously if he does get suspended it's a huge loss for their team. He's a big part of their team. But there's nothing we can do about it.''

Duncan Keith will face an NHL disciplinary hearing today for high-sticking Kings forward Jeff Carter in the face during Tuesday night's Game 3 loss, and could be suspended or fined. TSN and ESPN reported that the hearing will take place at 12:30 p.m. central time.

Keith swung his stick and his Carter in the face, briefly knocking Carter out of the game and drawing a double-minor penalty. Keith immediately tried to apologize to Carter before being ushered away by a ref -- and did apologize later in the period when Carter returned with a nasty gash on his face.

The stick swing was Keith's response to Carter's slash on Keith's unprotected hand as he reached down to pick up his glove off the ice.

"Obviously, I wanted to give him a tap, but not where it got him," Keith said. "I felt bad. Glad to see that he came back. ... It was just a little scuffle. It was an accident."

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews defended Keith.

"I don't think there was any intention to hit him in the face," Toews said. "I think he wanted to give him a whack back, obviously. ... Carter was instigating. It's an unfortunate incident. You never want to hit a guy in the face."

Keith has been suspended before. His elbow to Daniel Sedin's head on March 21, 2012 cost him five games. The NHL Department of Player Safety tends to dole out harsher penalties to repeat offenders. If Keith does get a suspension, Sheldon Brookbank -- who played 26 games this year but hasn't played since the season finale at St. Louis on April 27 -- would be his likely replacement for Game 4.

Kings score.jpgOther than Patrick Sharp almost getting into a fight, Game 3 of the Western Conference finals played out in predictable fashion Tuesday night at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Kings' 3-1 victory over the Blackhawks was not a series-turner. It was a typical ''that's why they call it hockey'' game.

The Kings, down 2-0 in the series, pushed back and played well. The Blackhawks, up 2-0 in the series, took their time in realizing what was hitting them, showed frustration, finally responded too late in the game -- not surprsingly when desperation set it -- and after a late third-period flurry against Jonathan Quick were left to lament that if only hockey were a four-period game they would have won.

That's why they call it hockey.

''It's another game,'' said Kings forward Tyler Toffoli, who had another productive night in place of injured center Mike Richards. ''Playoff hockey, and it's no real surprise.''

Mike Richards In Action.jpgKings coach Darryl Sutter didn't bother to waste everybody's time with the whole "game-time decision" thing. Center Mike Richards will not play in Game 3 against the Blackhawks tonight at the Staples Center.

Richards suffered a head injury when he was checked hard by Dave Bolland in the final minutes of the Hawks' 2-1 victory in Game 1. He was suffering concussion symptoms after the hit and was a late scratch from Game 2, which the Hawks won 4-2. Richards still is suffering symptoms and was not even on the ice for the Kings during their morning skate on Tuesday.

''If Mike Richards was making the decision, Mike Richards is playing tonight,'' Sutter said. ''You have guys who don't want to play. You have guys who do want to play. Mike Richards is a guy who wants to play.

Losing Richards, the Kings' top two-way forward, deals a significant blow to the Kings' hopes of recovering from a 2-0 deficit. But they did their best to downplay his absence. The Kings have been dealing with injuries all season. Jarret Stoll just returned from a head injury he suffered at the hands of San Jose's Raffi Torres in Game 1 of the Kings series with the Sharks.

''It's one of those things. It's tough. we definitely miss him,'' Stoll said. ''We got to have guys step up and play better when guys are out. Guys did it when I was out. Guys have to do it when Mike is out. It's no different. You're not a good team unless you can do those kinds of things and we're still playing, so I think we're a pretty good team. We've got to battle through it.''

Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson called the loss of Richards ''one less threat on the ice,'' but also said the Kings have enough depth to withstand the loss of Richards.

''He adds a different dimension for the team. He's a huge part of their game,'' Hajalmarsson said. ''He's not a big guy but he plays big. He has a big heart, you can see that. He plays tough every shift. Great passer, great shooter.

''Obviously as a defenseman, it's one less threat on the ice. They've got good players, another forward stepping in last game had a goal and assist [Tyler Toffoli]. There are always good players when you come to the third round of the playoffs, but it's a big loss for them, for sure." 

For a game with 82 official hits, Game 1 of the Western Conference final was a surprisingly tame affair -- until the final five minutes, that is. That's when Dave Bolland flattened and dazed Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown leveled Jonathan Toews.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said three hours before game time that Richards was "fine," but the talented Kings center was a surprise scratch for Game 2, with what the team termed an "upper-body injury." Richards is the Kings' leading playoff scorer with two goals and eight assists.

The NHL didn't think Bolland's hit -- on which he appeared to leave his feet, and hit Richards in the chin with the back of his shoulder -- was egregious, and decided against any disciplinary action. No hearing was held. Sutter didn't complain about the lack of penalty or punishment for Bolland.

"It's not really an issue," Sutter said.

The hits by Bolland and Brown are the kind of nastiness that lingers and festers in a playoff series, and both teams expected to ratchet up the intensity in Game 2.

Toews shrugged off the big hit by Brown, which came in the last minute of Game 1 as the Hawks used a power play to simply run out the clock.

"I just think they were maybe a little frustrated that we were just moving the puck around on the outside with not even two minutes left to go in the game, just trying to kill time on the power play," Toews said. "Kind of expect him to do something like that. We just got to be aware of when they're going to try and be physical on us."

The key, as it always is, was to walk the line of physical and foolish.

"We want to make sure we're playing hard within the whistles," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Make sure we're smart, but bring it. ... We just want to make sure we're smart, and disciplined. Staying out of the box is a priority."

Two weeks ago, the Blackhawks were coming off a surprisingly easy Game 1 victory with a chance to take a commanding lead of their second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center.

Detroit won Game 4-1, and the series was on.

The Hawks hope to learn from that experience tonight in Game 2 of the Western Conference final against the Los Angeles Kings, whom they handled with relative ease in a 2-1 Game 1 win Saturday night.

"We have to build off it, we have to not be satisfied with being up 1-0," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said Sunday morning. "We want to keep control of the series. These home games are huge. We didn't really do that in the last series and we kind of put ourselves in a tough spot. So that's something we can learn from."

Back-to-backs are nothing new for the Hawks, who played 12 of them in the compressed regular season. In those games, the Hawks went 10-1-1 -- the lone regulation loss coming in the season finale at St. Louis, when most of their starters stayed home to rest up for the playoffs.

"We're excited to have the chance to get right back into it," Toews said. "[But] to make any comparisons to the regular season never really means a whole lot to us."

Game 1 was a physical affair, but the Hawks are bracing for a significant escalation. In the final two minutes, Dave Bolland leveled Mike Richards with a borderline hit -- the NHL said there would be no disciplinary action against Bolland -- and Dustin Brown delivered a hard hit to Toews while the Hawks ran out the clock with a game-closing power play.

"We want to make sure we're playing hard within the whistles," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Make sure we're smart, but bring it. ... We just want to make sure we're smart, and disciplined. Staying out of the box is a priority."

Toews shrugged off the big hit by Brown.

"I just think they were maybe a little frustrated that we were just moving the puck around on the outside with not even two minutes left to go in the game, just trying to kill time on the power play," Toews said. "Kind of expect him to do something like that. We just got to be aware of when they're going to try and be physical on us."

So the Hawks expect the Kings to be playing with more physicality than they were in Game 1, playing with more urgency than they did in Game 1, and playing with more fire than they did in Game 1.

In other words, they expect the Kings to be a whole lot better than they were in Game 1.

"Same as what Detroit did," Bryan Bickell said. "I don't think Detroit was happy with the first game, and I don't think L.A. is, either."

Patrick Sharp scores.jpgThey say your stars have to play like stars the deeper you get into the playoffs. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp did that for the Blackhawks on Saturday night.

''I think they were buzzing tonight,'' Kings defenseman Matt Greene said of the Blackhawks forwards. ''We gotta do a better job on them, a better job on their entire team.''

With the Hawks trailing 1-0 after a 17-shot barrage against Jonathan Quick in the first period went for naught, Sharp and Hossa scored second-period goals to make the difference in a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at the United Center.

''He's a good goalie. We all know that,'' Sharp said. ''He makes saves when he sees the puck, when he doesn't see the puck. Anytime you can get those second and third chances, that's the idea. We were fortunate.''

Each goal was a textbook example of how to beat the red-hot Quick. Sharp scored on a ''juicy'' rebound of a shot by Johnny Oduya that bounded off Quick's pads right in front of the goal. Hossa was obstructing Quick's vision in front of the net when he redirected Duncan Keith's shot from the point into the net 3:58 later to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead with 3:38 left in the second period.

Sharp's goal was his NHL-leading eighth of the playoffs.

''Started in our zone with a quick pass by Handzus,'' Sharp said. ''Got out of our end clean. Attacked on the rush. I said on the ice, 'We got six [defensmen] that can all skate, can all make plays. Johnny Oduya made a great play to activate and jump up. That's something that every team works on in practice, shoot off that pad and go into the net for the rebound. I was fortunate it came right to me.''

Hossa's goal was a testament to the idea that you need net presence to beat Quick. It's a matter of getting position, which Hossa does well.

''I saw the puck coming, so I just tried to somehow touch the puck. One of those goals, when the puck goes your way. It just hit your stick and beat the goalie.''

Hossa had an inkling he would make an impact in the game. When cameras were on him during the national anthem, he winked at the camera.

''Lots of my friends back home were watching at the bar. I was giving them some signal,'' Hossa said. ''They called me before the game, said they were going to watch. Hopefully they got the signal.''

Blackhawks center Dave Bolland delivered the first big hit of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings, and it may get him in trouble.

"He was there," Bolland said of his jarring hit on Kings center Mike Richards in the final minutes of the Hawks' 2-1 victory in Game 1 at the United Center on Saturday. "I just came in and hit him."

Blackhawks in 5.jpgI've seen this movie before. Blackhawks in 5.

The Kings are supposed to be a bad matchup and they might be. But the Red Wings were supposed to be a good matchup and ended up providing just as much resistance as a bad matchup. The lesson: The Hawks follow a similar pattern no matter whom they play: they get thrown off their skill/skate/finesse game early, then react, respond and ultimately win.

The Kings are defending champions, but they don't have quite the championship sheen they had last year. In 2012 they were 10-1 on the road. This year they are 1-5. In 2012 they were 4-0 in overtime games, all on the road. This year they're 1-2.

Jonathan Quick is the defending Conn Smythe winner and on pace to win it again. But he's not Ken Dryden. As the Hawks have done against him in the past, just shoot it where he's not and you'll score. Fire the puck into his outstretched glove like the Sharks' Joe Pavelski did in Game 7 and you won't. Quick is the best thing going, but he's not invincible.

The Hawks were OK against the Wild and good enough against the Red Wings. They have a lot of room for upside -- Marion Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland, to name a couple. Brandon Saad, in over his head earlier in the playoffs, looks like he's getting the hang of it. And while most playoff teams have room for improvement, few have a history of rising to the challenge as the Hawks do. They've only done it seven or eight times in 2010 and 2013.

The mercurial nature of hockey makes predictions a particularly dicey proposition. But it's better than nothing and though this series could easily go Kings in 5, it's difficult to go against the Hawks until they prove otherwise. They learn slowly, but they learn well. Hawks in 5.

Jonathan Quick.jpgAs it turns out, the key to beating Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick are the same as beating any other goalie in hockey -- traffic in front of the net.

That's easier said than done in hockey, for some reason, and especially against the rough-and-tough Kings. But it's not impossible.

''You like to get early position there and you want to make sure that when you get there hopefully you can keep [Quick] from going out as far [in front of the net] as he gets out there,'' coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday morning.

''They do box out. Detroit did a lot of that to us as well. Finding your way through there -- there's got to be a willingness to fight through that traffic and physicality. We can't be deterred by it at all. Getting in front of him is going to be key.''

Hawks center Dave Bolland didn't have a big impact in the Detroit series -- his first of the playoffs since recovering from a groin injury -- until the final play of Game 7 when his check on Gustav Nyquist ultimately led to Brent Seabrook's series-winning goal. He knows the Hawks will be challenged to battle for position in front of Quick.

''They're a tough team to play. They play a hard-checking game,'' Bolland said. ''A guy like [Darryl] Sutter behind the bench, I don't think it's going to be an easy game. They check hard. They play hard. Everything they do is hard. They're a hard team to play against. We've got to be ready for this.''

Corey Crawford vs. Wings.jpgWith the Blackhawks and the Kings coming off Game 7s in their previous series, opening the Western Conference finals with back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday will pose a challenge for both teams.

It creates an interesting coaching challenge for Joel Quenneville and Darryl Sutter. Both coaches have deep rosters. But If either is pressed to go all out to win Game 1 today at the United Center, it might have a residual impact on Game 2, which will be played 24 hours later.

''That's a good question. We want to make sure that we're concentrating solely on today's game,'' Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ''I think you go into these games and play the first of two you want to make sure you're using everybody and you want to get all four lines into the game early.

''As the game plays out, sometimes you may change course, but I think you plan on using everybody. Our four-line success all year has been in place. We plan to go that route.''


About the blogger

Mark Lazerus was honored nationally by the Associated Press Sports Editors for three straight years at the Post-Tribune, was named one of the top three columnists in Indiana for three straight years and has won more than 20 statewide writing awards. He has covered Notre Dame for Sun-Times Media, and now covers the Blackhawks.



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