So far the first round Central Division match-up between the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawkshas been full of great hockey, thrilling games, and plenty of OT time. However, in Game 2 things took a turn for the dark side, as emotions ran rampant all over the ice Saturday afternoon. Even though Brent Seabrook has garnered most of the league and media's attention, the real instigator has been his D-partner, Duncan Keith.
Awesome Back and Forth Hockey Overshadowed by Cheap Play
Any outsider can take one glance at this series and see the tremendous talent in play each game, and can truly appreciate the pace that this 1st round match-up has yielded. What they may not see is all that's been happening behind the play, which was thrust into the limelight on Saturday afternoon when Brent Seabrook took a major charging penalty and was ejected from the game with a match penalty for his hit on Blues all-American captain David Backes.
Though there have been several cheap shots delivered on both sides throughout the first 2 games of this series, that hit was the culmination of a frustrated Hawks team caught up in the moment. As the above video shows, Brent Seabrook delivered a hit to an unsuspecting Backes and made the principal point of contact his head. This could happen at any moment in any game, but what makes this hit especially dirty is the exact situation it occurred in.
The Hit Heard Round the World
The events leading up to the hit actually start in front of the net as Duncan Keith is protecting the house (the area directly in front of your own net, between the face-off circles and to the goal line) as the puck gets shot into the corner, where Keith retrieves it and fires it around the boards as Backes gets hit. What you may not see is that as Duncan Keith protects the house, TJ Oshie cuts through the middle and Keith gives him a hard whack on his hand causing him to skate to the bench in pain, at which point Keith proceeds to follow Backes behind the net where he delivers a similar blow to the back of his calf, causing Backes to allow the puck to go by him so he can turn to see who chopped him, and exposing him for the Seabrook charge.
While this is nothing too out of the ordinary for a playoff game with bitter rivals, Duncan Keith's actions directly led to Backes' injury. This is also amplified because of Seabrook's illegal charging hit to David Backes' head, one that should have never happened. The puck was not near Backes, Seabrook had time to pull up, he did not have to thrust his elbow and shoulder forward in the aggressive manner he did, and he also left his feet (albeit barely) during contact. This was a dirty, ruthless hit caused by a tag team effort.
Keith's Dirty Work
While Keith's actions that led to the Seabrook hit weren't too terrible in that situation, they are compounded by his prior plays, not only in Game 2, but in previous playoff years as well. Most fans will remember last year's Western Conference Finals where Duncan Keith and Jeff Carter got tangled up in front of the Hawks' net, where Keith gives Carter a few extra whacks, which led to Carter retaliating as Keith reached for his glove, which then led to Keith slashing Carter across the face.
While Jeff Carter definitely instigated this situation, Duncan Keith does not use proper judgement as expected from top NHL players, and shows his cowardly nature in his final response to Carter's face. Fast-forward to Saturday's Round 1 game and it's a Duncan Keith low-light show. Throughout the game he pesters St. Louis' top guns, but only those he knows won't drop the mitts. He seems to target Vladimir Tarasenko's hands multiple times, and even takes things as far as to give cheap whacks to Tarasenko's face before the puck drops at face-offs.
The Final Straw
As if these plays weren't classless enough, Duncan Keith goes even further directly following the Backes hit. As Backes comes back around from getting his bell rung, and while he's still trying to figure out exactly where he is and what just happened, Keith makes sure that everyone knows his feelings about things as he chirps the injured Blue, repeatedly yelling, "Wakey wakey, Backes."
This is simply a player whose head is no longer in the right place, and who is becoming a danger to everyone on the ice, and a poor ambassador of the sport. When you add in Brent Seabrook's ear-to-ear grin as he's leaving the ice directly following the hit on Backes, a coach who was just fined for indecent gestures and crude language during game 1, Bryan Bickell's obvious knee-to-knee on Vladimir Sobotka just prior to the Backes hit, and fans who embrace the culture they're provided with (see the reaction of the Chicago fans behind Backes, and the new t-shirt being sold online) and it seems like Chicago is purposely trying to set the entire league back a decade.
Though the playoffs will always get rough, which is a big reason they are so captivating, players must maintain proper judgement as the faces of the sport today. Sending messages like this to youth players will only cause greater harm at all levels, and eventually will also cause fans to lose interest like they have in the past. Lastly, when you get a Canadian hockey icon such as Don Cherry talking about how disgusted he is by the play of one of his country's best players, you know something is truly aloof. Cherry publicly stated that Keith was "gutless" and was only picking on guys he knew wouldn't retaliate, strong words to use on a fellow countryman.
Where Does the Series Go From Here?
As far as game 2 is concerned the St. Louis Blues were able to complete a second straight OT comeback and gain a 2-0 series lead over Chicago, but now that the fire is fueled and the series shifts to the "Madhouse on Madison" one can only wonder, will any players on either team make it out alive? Will the refs be able to control the games? Will retaliations become even more outrageous?
One thing is certain, this battle royale just turned into a WWE Royal Rumble, and which ever team ends up winning the series may be doomed in Round 2. Blues fans can expect someone, most likely Ryan Reaves, to step up and show Duncan Keith what Blues hockey is all about in a fair, but very physical way. From there let's hope the Blues can stay disciplined and focused on their true goal, and send the Blackhawks to the links before Seabrook's return.
Like what you've just read? Follow me on Twitter: @pep30.