By Jeff Hamilton
WINNIPEG - The Blackhawks may be without Duncan Keith for the rest of the regular season and Game 1 of their first round playoff series, but they know it could have been worse.
Keith, who was handed down a six-game suspension by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety Friday evening for a high-stick on Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle in the first period of Tuesday’s loss to the Wild, will certainly be missed. After all, the Hawks will be missing their best player down the stretch, the guy they lean on to log the most minutes, many of which come during the most important situations in a game.
But they also know he’ll return; a return that will come in time for what they hope will be another deep postseason run in defending last year’s title. And it’s because of that they can take the news with a deep breath, and a sigh or relief.
“I’m not the one who picks the amount of games so the less, the better,” said Scott Darling, who made 28 saves in a 5-4 overtime win over the Jets Friday night to close out a four-game road trip with a record of 3-1.
“We’re going to miss him no matter what but it could have been more so we’re happy it’s only one (playoff) game.”
Brent Seabrook, the hero in Friday’s game with the game-winning goal one minute four seconds into overtime, also made no bones about the length of Keith’s suspension. But he also knows what it means to lose a leader both on and off ice. And the way the team has been playing — the Hawks are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games — he's aware of the up-hill battle ahead of him and his teammates.
“We’re obviously glad it’s not more (games),” he said. “He’s such a valuable part of this team and Game 1 of the playoffs, it’s going to be a war as it always is. It’s a team of 20 players, being out there we’re all going to have to band together and pick up the slack for Dunc and we’re sure he’ll be coming for Game 2.”
“As a group of six back there (on defense) we’re going to have to be at our best. We got to take some of the load on our shoulders and get the job done.”
As for coach Joel Quenneville, who with the rest of the Blackhawks’ coaching staff were the only ones on the bench that knew about the suspension before puck drop, he refused to see the one playoff game as a bonus for his team, even though he said he respected the league’s decision.
“One playoff game is very big when you know his importance to our team and the minutes he absorbs,” he said. “We’ll take it, move on and learn from it as well.”