In the 2007 playoffs, the NHL suspended Anaheim Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger for one game in the Stanley Cup final for levelling Dean McAmmond with a forearm to the face.
The Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators without their No. 1 (or 1A) defenceman for the second time that postseason and they went on to win the Cup in five easy steps.
So whatever the NHL ultimately did with Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith on Wednesday – it turned out to be a one-game suspension for high-sticking Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter on Tuesday – the Blackhawks are a good-enough team to win a single game, even missing a key contributor.
Every team has done it: the Kings won 3-1 Tuesday, playing without centre Mike Richards, which cut Chicago’s lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference final series to 2-1. (Richards skated with the Kings extras Wednesday, but is probably still a few days away from returning.)
At issue with Keith was the age-old question of intent – and how little intent actually matters when it comes to matters of supplementary discipline.
Postgame, and again during his hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, Keith invoked the Marty McSorley defence: that he swung at Carter’s shoulder and inadvertently made contact with the head. It was an accident, in other words.
Keith’s argument didn’t sway Shanahan and as a result, the Blackhawks will play Thursday without their ice-time leader, a pivotal figure on the team.
“Like you say, he eats up a lot of ice,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. “He’s a guy that’s in great shape and never gets tired out there. Especially on the back end, with a guy that can move the puck like that and play in all situations, he’s a huge part of this team.”
One of the players that could give the Blackhawks a boost is the slumping Kane, who, along with Jonathan Toews, represent the club’s primary one-two scoring punch.
Generally, when Toews is struggling offensively, he usually helps in other ways – by winning faceoffs, killing penalties, responsible two-way play. Kane is a far-less physical presence who plays his best defence mainly by getting a hold of the puck.
When he isn’t scoring, he doesn’t contribute nearly as much.
“These playoffs, for whatever reason, I don’t know it’s been happening,” said Kane, who had 55 points in 47 regular-season games, but has just two goals in the postseason. “It’s something where you can watch video, improve, watch clips of yourself doing good in the past. For me, personally, I think it’s all about willpower and getting the puck and going to do it and having that mindset that you’re going to do it.
“Like I’ve said before, it’s not all of a sudden that I’m a bad player. It just doesn’t happen like that. I had a good regular season, and I’m still a good player in this league and can make plays. It’s just something I’ve just got to go out and do.”
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville noted Kane and Toews are not the only front-line NHL scoring talents having trouble producing offence in the playoffs.
“Scoring has been tough throughout the playoffs for everybody,” said Quenneville, adding when Kane is “playing his best hockey, he has the puck, he’s dangerous with it, off the rush, in the zone, coming out of our end. When he has the puck, not many players in the league can do what we can do.
“I think Johnny is such a competitor, he complements our team game the way you hope. But at the same time, it would be nice to see a little more finish.”
Keith spoke to reporters after practice, but before the verdict was in – and thus couldn’t offer much insight into what would eventually follow.
“We’ve had a hearing,” he said. “I’ve said my piece. I said the same thing [Tuesday]: it was more of an accident to hit him where I got him. It is what it is now.
Admittedly, what Keith did was more careless than malicious and he showed genuine remorse almost immediately after. But it didn’t change the fact he permitted his hair-trigger temper to get the best of him once again.
Vancouver Canucks fans remember what he did two years ago, with an elbow to the head of Daniel Sedin. It cost him a five-game suspension but set the Canucks back even further. Without Sedin available for the final portion of the regular season, plus the first two playoff games, Vancouver fell behind 2-0 to the Kings and ultimately lost the series in what was then considered a massive upset.
Keith was considered a repeat offender under the NHL’s disciplinary system, which factored into Shanahan’s decision. In all probability, the Blackhawks will insert Sheldon Brookbank into the lineup in his place.
“It’s a decision that will be made and you can’t do anything about it,” centre Dave Bolland said, prior to learning Keith’s fate. “Whatever the outcome is, we’ll still be there.
“We still have to think about what we have in our hands and what we have going on here. You go through bumps and bruises throughout the playoff year. You’re always going through little things and ups and downs – losing a guy, bringing a guy in – those are things that motivate the team and give the team a boost. We have to be ready for whatever happens.”