Updated: May 23, 2014 6:23AM
A bit player for most of his seven seasons in the NHL, defenseman Sheldon Brookbank cherishes every opportunity to play in a big game. But especially this one. A rough-and-tumble series with the St. Louis Blues is his kind of game.
“Better believe it,’’ said Brookbank, 33, who was third on the team in penalty minutes (52) in the regular season despite playing in only 48 games. “It’s gonna be tough. [You] have to keep yourself in check and not get too caught up in all the stuff. So far, it’s had a lot of bite to it, and I don’t expect that to change at all.”
Brookbank was paired with Duncan Keith in Game 3 as a replacement for Brent Seabrook, who was suspended for three games for his hit on Blues center David Backes in Game 2 in St. Louis.
“He’s a steady guy — simple, direct,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Hard to play against, and he gives us that [physical] presence back there, as well.”
Brookbank was in a similar role in the playoffs last year when he replaced Keith, who had been suspended for Game 4 against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals at Staples Center.
Brookbank had not played in more than five weeks, though, and it showed. He was a minus-2 in 6:50 of ice time, though the Hawks rallied to win 3-2.
This time, Brookbank came in on a nine-day layoff.
“Hopefully, I won’t be as rusty and still have the rhythm going from the regular season,” he said.
Hawks goalie Corey Crawford admitted that he has to play better, but he lamented a few close calls that have helped turn this series in the Blues’ favor.
“Last game, I touched three pucks that went into the net,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘As a goalie, it’s kind of frustrating when those go in, when you get a piece of it. Two of them went through me. Late in the first period [with less than one second left], I go across, and it hit the top of my blocker.
“It’s just a matter of finding a way to make those saves. For most of them, I was in position — right there and getting a piece of it. It’s tough when you play it that way, and it still goes in.”