LOS ANGELES - Joel Quenneville makes no bones about Duncan Keith's value to the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Dunks is important in all areas. We talk about special teams, you talk about big minutes, you talk about how we defend, get activated on the back end, his leadership, his compete level,” the Blackhawks head coach said Wednesday. “He's everything you want in a defenceman. He's very important.”
Keith may be all those things to the Blackhawks, but he will also be absent when they resume their Western Conference final series Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Keith was handed a one-game suspension by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for his high stick to the face of Jeff Carter in Tuesday's clash, a 3-1 Kings victory that left the Blackhawks leading the best-of-seven series 2-1.
“This is more serious than a case of a player simply having to be responsible for his stick,” Shanahan said during a video released by the league. “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.”
After Carter slashed at Keith's glove while he attempted to pick it up off the ice, Keith took a one-handed swing at the Kings centre, and caught him in the face with the blade.
Carter, who missed a portion of the second period but eventually returned, suffered a cut that required 20 stitches to close and had a couple of teeth damaged. Keith received a double-minor penalty on the play.
Keith, who said after the game he didn't intend to hit Carter in the face and apologized to the Kings centre immediately after the play, refused to delve into the incident further after practising Wednesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“We had a hearing. I said my piece. I said the same thing (Tuesday) night, it was an accident hitting him where I got him,” he said.
Shanahan said during the hearing Keith admitted he swung at Carter, but didn't intend to injure him.
“Even if Carter did indeed chop down on top of Keith's hand, that still does not justify the extent of Keith's actions,” Shanahan responded.
The Blackhawks are leading the series but know being without Keith, who leads the team in ice time with nearly 25 minutes per game, creates a big hole.
“He eats up a lot of ice. He’s a guy that’s in great shape. He never gets tired out there. He’s tireless,” winger Patrick Kane said of Keith. “Especially on the back end with a guy that can move the puck like that, plays in all situations – power play, penalty kill – it’s a huge part of this team.”
Then again, it could give the Blackhawks, who are coming off a disappointing outing, another rallying point.
“You go through bumps and bruises during the playoff year,” centre David Bolland said. “You're always going through little things, ups and downs, so losing a guy and bringing a guy in, those are things that motivate the team and give the team a boost.”
It's likely the Blackhawks will insert Sheldon Brookbank into the lineup in Keith's place.
Keith is deemed a repeat offender by the league after he was given a five-game banishment late last season for an elbow to the head of Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin, which caused a concussion.
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Kings forward Jeff Carter is seen on the bench after taking a stick to the face from Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith during Tuesday night's NBC broadcast. (@cjzero)