LOS ANGELES – It took nearly an hour, but finally Jeff Carter emerged from the Los Angeles Kings dressing room, fresh stitches poking out from under his right lip. Those came courtesy of a high stick from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, who was trying to get Carter's attention but wound up doing more than that.
As the two skated up ice midway through the second period after a brief scuffle in the Chicago zone, Keith swung his stick upward at a streaking Carter, catching him in the face. Carter immediately went down; Keith went to the penalty box with a questionably light four-minute minor.
"You can watch the video," Carter said when asked if it was a dirty play. "Draw your own assumptions."
Darryl Sutter doesn't need to see the video. The Kings coach has already drawn his assumption.
"It's retaliation with a stick," he said. "It's not a high stick. … Don't even need video."
Keith may get a phone call Wednesday from Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's director of player safety, who will decide if the incident warrants a suspension. Whether Keith is allowed to suit up for Thursday night's Game 4 of these Western Conference final, this much we now know: The Blackhawks, dominators of the regular season, have a fight on their hands.
The defending Stanley Cup champions were back in a familiar place Tuesday night, namely Staples Center, where they haven't lost in this postseason – and still haven't after scratching out a 3-1, series-saving victory. Series saving because they were in a 2-0 hole after losing both games in Chicago, and dropping a third straight would have almost certainly meant curtains.
Using the trusted combination of Justin Williams' scoring (his wrister barley three minutes in provided much-needed momentum after Sunday's 4-2 trouncing) and Jonathan Quick in net (the Blackhawks launched 10 shots his way in a furious third period only to come up empty), the Kings climbed right back into the series and renewed their quest to become the first repeat champions since 1998.
"We're finding ways to win by only scoring a couple of goals and a big part of that is obviously Quick," said captain Dustin Brown. "He made one save in the third [period] late that saved the game for us."
With just over three minutes to go and the Kings clinging to a 2-1 lead, Bryan Bickell had the puck on his stick and an unobstructed view five feet from the goal. A quick flick of the wrist put the puck on an open net, only a quicker Quick sent it flying harmlessly away with a flailing blocker.
Off the ice, Quick is about as exciting as a roll of paper towels; on the ice, he's as valuable to his team as any player in hockey.
The Kings have scored two or fewer goals in 11 of 16 playoff games this postseason, yet here they are a single win away from drawing even with the Presidents Trophy winners who had a plus-53 goal differential this season. And the main reason is Quick, who's allowed more than two goals only three times in the playoffs.
"It's like a broken record with Quick," Williams said afterward, before mockingly adding, "Oh, good save."
The Kings took a 2-0 lead six minutes into the second period when Slava Voynov's broken-stick slapper fluttered toward the net, changing up Corey Crawford who was expecting a fastball.
Moments later, Keith's stick caught Carter in the mouth. The Kings were unable to capitalize on the four-minute power play, allowing the Blackhawks to stay in the game, eventually draw within one on Bickell's goal just before the period ended, and keep the outcome in doubt until an empty-net goal in the waning moments clinched the win for the Kings.
"Obviously I wanted to give him a tap, but not where I got him," Keith explained afterward. "I felt bad.
"It was an accident," he continued. "I have no idea [if the league will look at it]. I said it was an accident."
The league and particularly Shanahan will be the judge of that. Aside from Sutter, the Kings mostly took the hit to Carter's face in stride.
"This time of year, players complain a lot in the media about what goes on on the ice, and we're worried about getting ready for Game 4," Brown said. "If [the league] wants to deal with him, they can. It's nothing for the guys in here to be worried about."
Standing in the bowels of Staples Center, a bit of blood still caked on his lip, Carter refused the bait, knowing a bigger fish awaits.
"It is what is man," he said. "It is what it is."
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