The Blues and Blackhawks enter Game 3 of their first-round playoff series each minus a key player. And while Blues captain David Backes certainly is the worse for wear, the absence of the guy who hit him figures to be the more consequential.
The NHL suspended Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook for three games after his violent collision with Backes late in the third period of Game 2. It is unknown how long Backes will be out.
There’s no replacing either player. The Blues certainly will miss Backes, a legitimate No. 1 center who plays an imposing, intimidating, mean game. But the return of Patrik Berglund helps soften the blow.
Filling the void left by Seabrook’s absence, however, will be the larger chore. The Blackhawks basically went four or five deep on defense en route to their Stanley Cup championship last year. They’ve done much the same thing this series with Michal Rozsival and Nick Leddy seeing significantly less ice than Chicago’s top four. Now, with Seabrook out, a guy like Rozsival plays a far bigger role than Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had anticipated.
Seabrook is the Blackhawks’ physical presence on the back end. While Sheldon Brookbank will be inserted to help replace some of that beef, he’s not Seabrook. Former Blues first-round pick David Rundblad can skate and move the puck and could become an option deeper in the series, but turning to him in crunch time could be too risky at this stage.
Seabrook’s absence also could affect Duncan Keith, who is believed to have chided Backes by saying, "Wakey, wakey" as the Blues’ captain was trying to get up after the hit. You can be sure the Blues will pay extra attention to Keith tonight. Keith is used to having Seabrook skating alongside as his bodyguard but won’t have the luxury of having some of the easy, quick exits he’s used to. Look for the Blues to finish Keith physically whenever they can.
Seabrook and Keith are the top defensive pair on a team with two Stanley Cup rings; you can’t overestimate how big of a loss Seabrook is for Chicago.
BICKELL LEG WHIP WORSE THAN SEABROOK HIT?
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wasn’t happy with Chicago’s Bryan Bickell catching Vladimir Sobotka with a knee-on-knee hit that nearly ended Sobotka’s night. Sobotka did return to the game, which in all likelihood kept the league from getting involved and handing down any supplemental discipline. Bickell has been accused of doing the same thing to Blues D-man Alex Pietrangelo in the first period of Game 2.
Actions like these don’t go unnoticed and instantly impact a player’s reputation among his peers. Consider Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown, who is labeled a predator by many players around the league. San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl was on the receiving end of a pretty violent knee-on-knee collision from Brown that cost Hertl 45 regular-season games. Hertl has returned for the playoffs, but many have wondered if his season would have been completely wiped out if he wasn’t equipped with the healing power of a 19-year-old kid.
Sticking your leg out to make contact with another player is an intentional act. I’m not sure how one could argue there was no intent involved.
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