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Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith suspended for Game 4 of series vs. Kings

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Updated: July 7, 2013 1:09PM

LOS ANGELES — A lockdown defenseman. A speedy, highly skilled puck-mover. A power-play point man. A penalty-killing specialist. A minutes-eating machine. A team leader.

The suddenly short-handed Blackhawks will have to figure out a way to replace all of those players Thursday in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings because the one guy who fills all those roles — Duncan Keith — will be watching from the press box.

The NHL on Wednesday suspended Keith for one game for hitting the Kings’ Jeff Carter in the face with his stick during the second period of Game 3 on Tuesday. Keith said it was an accident. The league thought otherwise, viewing it as a reckless, dangerous, retaliatory swing.

Keith admitted to trying to hit Carter in retaliation for Carter slashing his unprotected hand as he reached down to grab his glove, but he said he wasn’t trying to hit him in the face. Regardless of intent, though, Carter needed about 20 stitches to close the cut Keith gave him and suffered a chipped tooth and two cracked ones. It didn’t help that Keith is what the league calls a ‘‘repeat offender’’ after being banned for five games last spring for an elbow to the head of the Vancouver Canucks’ Daniel Sedin.

‘‘This is more serious than a case of a player simply having to be
responsible for his stick,’’ NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan said. ‘‘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.’’

Shanahan didn’t care who started it, either.

‘‘Even if Carter did chop down on Keith’s hand, that still does not justify the extent of Keith’s actions,’’ Shanahan said.

Keith made his case earlier in the day during a phone hearing with Shanahan.

‘‘I said my piece and said the same thing last night,’’ Keith said. ‘‘It was an accident. I didn’t mean to get him where I got him.’’

While there’s never an ideal time to lose a 26-minute-a-game Norris Trophy winner, the Hawks could ill-afford to lose him at this point. The Kings got themselves back in the series with an 3-1 victory at Staples Center and could even the series and take the momentum back to Chicago with a victory Thursday. Game 4 could be a turning point in the series either way, and the Hawks will have to play it without their leaders in ice time and in the dressing room.

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson called Keith ‘‘one of the best D-men in the league’’ but thought the Hawks could withstand the loss with Sheldon Brookbank making his 2013 playoff debut.

‘‘That’s been our strength pretty much all season, our depth on our blue line,’’ Hjalmarsson said. ‘‘We’re going to be all right. . . . Brookbank’s going to come in and play good. All the other D-men have to step up a
little bit more, but we’ll see what happens. But as I said, I think we have a good enough ‘D’ corps to play.’’

Brookbank played in 26 regular-season games but hasn’t played since the regular-season finale April 27. With Keith practicing Wednesday before the ruling was handed down, Brookbank said he was ‘‘on call.’’

‘‘It’s tough,’’ Brookbank said. ‘‘It’s not the ideal situation, but 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.’’

Of course, there’s a big difference between replacing a guy in the lineup and replacing him on the ice.

‘‘If [Keith] does get suspended, it’s a huge loss for their team,’’ Carter said before the ruling. ‘‘He’s a big part of their team.’’

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