Jeff Carter lost teeth. The Blackhawks lost Keith.
This is the second Carter trade the Kings have won. It goes without saying that Keith and Carter's Game 3 exchange resulted in a much bigger loss for Chicago, and not just because Carter says he technically only lost parts of his teeth.
“I chipped one tooth, cracked a couple on the bottom, but didn’t actually lose any,” he explained.
You can play through that. Heck, playing through lost teeth is pretty much the most hockey thing there is. Playing through lost lynchpins is another matter, and that's what the Chicago Blackhawks have to do Thursday night in Game 4. Duncan Keith is the engine of the Blackhawks' entire system. Like the bits of tooth and flesh he inadvertently hacked out of Jeff Carter's face that led to his one-game suspension, he'll be sorely missed.
The Kings, who are looking to go 9-0 at home in these playoffs and, in so doing, send the Western Conference Final back to Chicago tied at two games apiece, are acting like Keith's absence isn't a big deal.
"Chicago's the best team in the league this year, not based on one player," Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said prior to the game. "In fact, Duncan Keith's minutes were cut back substantially this year to allow them to be a fresh team every night."
He's got a point. Keith may be the star of the group, but the Blackhawks' defensive corps thrives as a unit.
"Probably one of the reasons they were the best team in the league by a longshot was the fact that their defense was healthy," Sutter added. "I think if you look at it, Duncan and Seabrook and Hjalmarsson and Oduya either played 46, 47, 48 games, and probably one of those was resting for the playoffs."
"I don't think we're too concerned with one player for them. We're more concerned about our own players, if they're healthy."
That's fair, and it's what you'd expect a reasonable coach to say. Focus on what we can do, stick to our gameplan, play our best game, et cetera, et cetera. It's a wise approach. The moment you're hinging your success on what the other team is doing or who they're playing, you've made that success a little harder to come by. Thus, no one in the LA locker room is going to do cartwheels about Keith sitting out Game 4 -- at least not with the door open.
Jarret Stoll shrugged it off.
"Whatever," he said, when asked about Keith's suspension.
But Stoll and Sutter know full well that Keith is more than just a redshirt (red shirt notwithstanding). "He's a big piece of their team," Stoll added. "We got to take advantage of that and play the right way."
Even that's an understatement. Keith is more than just a big piece. He's the engine of the Blackhawks at both ends of the ice. Most nights, he's out there for nearly half the game, using his fleet feet to fight the forecheck, pushing the tempo, and finding his teammates in stride for promising zone exits and entries. The Blackhawks are never faster than when Keith is at top speed, and after Games 1 and 2 made it clear that Chicago is too fast for LA at top speed, a night without turbo Keith is a gift that simply can't be squandered.
Especially not when a loss means going back to Chicago down 3-1. That's a tough deficit to overcome, especially when it means being perfect on the road, something the Kings have been decidedly less than in these playoffs.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, know Keith's absence is something that has to be overcome.
"This is sometimes part of the playoffs," Marian 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."
If the Kings hope to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, they cannot let that happen.
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