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Blackhawks back into hole after Seabrook suspension

Updated: April 21, 2014 10:50AM

The Blackhawks famously thrive on adversity in the playoffs — it’s not a coincidence that they played their best hockey of the postseason in in the second half of Game 2 against the Blues on Saturday immediately after they played their absolute worst in the first half.

That’s what they do. They Hawks are rarely better than when the hole is just deep enough that it appears they can’t dig themselves out. They responded magnificently last year when they were down 3-1 in games to the Red Wings in the second round. And they were at their methodical, disciplined best when they beat the Kings on the road in Game 4 of the Western Conference final after Duncan Keith had been suspended for slashing Jeff Carter.

Consider them in equally deep … trouble again — or pretty close to it — after defenseman Brent Seabrook was suspended three games by the NHL for a check to the head of Blues forward David Backes late in Game 2 that the league’s department of player safety determined was illegal, avoidable and unnecessarily violent.

Here’s a wrap-up of the latest pickle the Blackhawks find themselves in: They will be without Seabrook — an Olympic-caliber defenseman — for the next three games. They’re down 2-0 in the series. The Blues are steaming after their captain was laid out by Seabrook. And the Hawks are facing a well-coached, inspired opponent that makes few unforced errors and likely will respond to the Seabrook-Backes incident without overreacting.

“I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about how we play,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday prior to the announcement of the Seabrook suspension. “We’ve gotta be smarter. We’ve talked about that — discipline is going to be key against these guys. They push you physically and you’ve got to get engaged and be willing to compete in the hard areas. But we can’t take undisciplined penalties.’’

surprisingly, Quenneville curiously said he did not have a problem with it. “I’m not complaining about the hit at all,’’ he said.

The NHL, though, took major issue with it. The department of player safety ruled that Seabrook had time to avoid the hit and committed both interference and charging infractions ‘’and delivered a violent blow’’ to a player without the puck that caused an injury.

“Backes skates behind the Chicago net to collect a loose puck behind the boards, but fails to control it,” an NHL spokesman said on a video released by the league. “As Backes continues on his path to the corner — well away from the puck and past the time frame in which he is eligible to be checked — Seabrook drives up and into Backes, delivering a blow with his right shoulder that causes Backes to slam violently into the glass and boards. This is both interference and charging.

“While it is possible that Seabrook does not initially recognize that Backes never gains possession of the puck, the onus still is on Seabrook to ensure that he does not hit an ineligible opponent.

“Seabrook is still in the faceoff circle when Backes overskates the puck [behind the Blackhawks’ net] and Seabrook skates some distance before making this hit. So he has time to avoid this check completely. Instead, he skates into the hit and drives up with his right shoulder, delivering a violent blow that causes the defenseless Backes to crash dangerously into the boards.’’

Seabrook will miss the next three games of the Blues-Blackhawks series: Game 3 is Monday night and Game 4 is Wednesday night at the United Center. Game 5, if necessary, will be Friday night at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

The Blackhawks were not available for comment on the suspension. They held their mandatory media availability an hour before the penalty was announced. But even then, the Blackhawks were expecting to be without Seabrook for at least a game or two.

“It hurts,’’ forward Brandon Saad said. “He’s a leader. He’s a good player and does the right things out there. But we’ve got to accept the challenge and play without him. We can’t use that as an excuse. We’ve got to rise to the challenge and play for him.’’

The Blues, as expected, were incensed by the play. It didn’t help that replays of the incident caught someone on the scene taunting the dazed Backes — “Wakey, wakey, Backes’’ — as he tried to recover from the hit.

It’s difficult to determine if a Blackhawks player said it, but in the Twitter world, it’s an issue — the Blues are responding as if a Blackhawks said it.

‘’The replays I’ve seen … I saw them talking to [Backes], it makes it a little more gutless,’’ said Blues bully Ryan Reaves, who has no room to talk but did anyway. “I don’t think there’s any need for that. He doesn’t even know where he really is. I think if they want to start getting into that battle, we can play the same way. We’ll see where it takes us.

“I’m not happy about that. I don’t think anybody in this organization is happy about it. … To see that happen I think is just embarrassing in that organization.’’

Backes’ status won’t be determined until prior to Game 3 on Monday night at the United Center, according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.

“All I know is he’s upright — and that’s about it,’’ Hitchcock told reporters in St. Louis on Sunday morning. “I know one thing — he couldn’t play [Sunday].”

Veteran Sheldon Brookbank appears to be the likely roster replacement for Seabrook.

‘’We have Brooksie, who’s been great the times he’s played this year,’’ defenseman Johnny Oduya said. ‘’Obviously losing Seabs is not ideal, but we had a game last year where we lost Duncs and the other guys had to step in and play more minutes and bigger roles and do abetter job and I think that’s something we have to look at.’’

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