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With top defenseman Duncan Keith suspended, Blackhawks turn to Brookbank

LOS ANGELES — All season, coach Joel Quenneville said he welcomed tough lineup decisions, calling the Blackhawks’ abundance of worthy players a good problem to have.

Up until Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Thursday, that vaunted depth hadn’t been tested in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Quenne-ville said before knocking on the table in front of him.

But few deep playoff runs come without any adversity, and the Hawks’ depth got its first test in Game 4. Defenseman Sheldon Brookbank entered the lineup to replace Duncan Keith, who was serving his one-game suspension for hitting Kings forward Jeff Carter in the face with his stick. Brookbank hadn’t played since the season finale in St. Louis on April 27 and had been quietly skating, practicing and working — just in case something like this happened.

“I had to tell Brookbank a couple of times, ‘Be patient, you’re going to get an opportunity, and it could be at the most critical time of the playoffs,’ ” Quenneville said. “It’s a critical time now. I have to commend him on his patience and his approach, knowing that he deserves to be playing. Nice to see him get a chance.”

This is why healthy scratches such as Brookbank, Daniel Carcillo (who played in four games in the first two rounds), Brandon Bollig (who played three games in the first round) and Jamal Mayers — contributors during the regular season but bystanders in the playoffs — keep putting in the time and effort.

“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,” Brookbank said. “But it’s definitely an opportunity for me. It’s something where I’ll just do my best to make the most of it.”

His teammates expected nothing less.

“He’s a professional,” Michal Rozsival said of Brookbank, with whom he split time throughout the regular season before fully taking over the sixth defenseman spot for the postseason. “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 Kings already have been dealing with a similar situation. Star center Mike Richards missed his third game in a row with an apparent concussion. In his stead, rookie Tyler Toffoli stepped in and had a goal and two assists in Games 2 and 3.

The Hawks took confidence from their ability to fill in the gaps during the regular season. Patrick Sharp missed 19 games with injury, and Marian Hossa missed seven. The situation was essentially the same Thursday, only the stakes were raised.

“This is sometimes part of the playoffs,” Hossa said. “You miss guys maybe for a suspension, you miss guys because of some injury. That happens. Now we just have to go out there and find a way to win without the key guys.”

Of course, Brookbank can’t be reasonably expected to duplicate everything Keith does. When a star goes down, everyone has to chip in a little more. And the Hawks feel they have the depth to withstand nearly any loss.

“[Keith] is 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. If we get through this, it’s going to make us stronger.”



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