By Adam Hoge-
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (CBS) As expected, Sheldon Brookbank will play in his first postseason game Thursday night against the Kings as Duncan Keith serves his one game suspension during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
Brookbank played in 26 of the Blackhawks’ 48 regular season games but has yet to crack the lineup in the playoffs as the defensive pairings have stayed healthy.
“I had to tell Brooksy a couple times, be patient, you’re going to get an opportunity and it could be the most critical time come the playoffs,” head coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday. “And it is a very critical time with him jumping in tonight. You got to commend him on his patience and his approach and knowing that he deserves to be playing. Nice to see him get a chance.”
Brookbank fits the Duncan Keith mold as an offensive defenseman (maybe not in terms of production but as a guy who can create scoring chances by pinching into the offensive zone), but the Blackhawks could be left vulnerable without Keith’s ability to get back and recover.
Head coach Joel Quenneville always encourages his defensemen to pinch forward, but those efforts have been even more aggressive during the playoffs.
Still, without Keith, Hawks forward Bryan Bickell does not expect the defense to sit back more.
“For the D jumping in the rush, it helps us forwards and it gives us more scoring opportunities off that,” he said. “No, I don’t think it’s going to change.”
Considering the Blackhawks struggled to get out of their zone in their 3-1 Game 3 loss Tuesday, they need Brookbank to contribute offensively in the transition game. That may put more pressure on goaltender Corey Crawford to make big saves without Keith on the ice, but against a struggling Kings offense, it’s a chance the Blackhawks can take.
The other major issue without Keith is the distribution of his minutes. He is averaging a team-high 24:44 minutes a game in the playoffs.
“I just think everybody is probably going to get a few more minutes each and Brooksy can absorb some minutes as well,” Quenneville said. “So it’s a situation where I think the score and the way the game is being played will dictate how much ice time, but we expect probably a pretty balanced group of six out there.”
Tonight’s contest at the Staples Center isn’t necessarily a must-win, but it is a huge opportunity to put all the pressure on the Kings by putting them in a 3-1 hole going back to Chicago.
“Definitely it’s a huge difference (between 2-2 and 3-1),” Marian Hossa said. “We know what this game means for us. We can get ourselves in a great position coming back home. So this is a huge game. Obviously every game is huge, but this will really make a difference in how this series is going to go.”
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