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Does recent skid, Keith incident raise questions about Chicago?

David Berding/Icon Sportswire

Hot and not

CoutureLogan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Couture ended a 10-game goal drought with a bang on Tuesday, netting his first career hat trick in a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.


MarkstromJacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks
Markstrom allowed three goals on 30 shots in that loss to the Sharks and has now lost five straight starts.


Is it time to worry about the Chicago Blackhawks?

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Should we be concerned about the reigning Stanley Cup champions? I know we've been trained to ignore the March swoons Chicago has given us over the years because we know the real Blackhawks come out to play when mid-April arrives. Still, after yet another loss to the Minnesota Wild (a 4-1 defeat on Tuesday), with goaltender Corey Crawford still out of the lineup, and defenseman Duncan Keith facing a possible suspension after a stick-swinging incident against the Wild, should we be worried at all about the Hawks' chances? They're six points behind both the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues in the Central Division, so forget about finishing any higher than third, and the fourth-place Nashville Predators are only four points back. That doesn't matter as much to me, because where the Hawks finish in the regular season never has. I would feel better, though, if we saw Crawford play a few games before the end of the regular season, which is likely the plan, but who knows until we actually see it. As for Keith and his slash to the face of Charlie Coyle on Tuesday night, I have to believe it will cost him a few games, which, practically speaking, maybe isn't the worst thing in the world for a guy who plays the most minutes on the team and could use a break just about now. Thoughts?


Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: The spotlight will be squarely on the NHL's department of player safety after Keith's ugly incident and the resulting match penalty for intent to injure. The replay shows Keith knocked on his back, then he appears to look up at Coyle before swinging the stick and then rolling over and getting to his skates. League officials will have to interpret the level of intent in this incident, but it's hard to imagine Keith won't be suspended for a few games. The big question is whether any suspension would extend into the postseason. Chicago will likely face St. Louis or Dallas right off the bat, and both pose serious threats, especially if Keith is out of the lineup for any amount of time. Keith has had a couple of suspensions on his record to go with couple of Norris Trophies, so the pressure is on the league not to let him off lightly because he is an elite player. What is a just punishment for a dangerous and potentially devastating play? My guess is Keith sits the remainder of the regular season but is cleared for Game 1.


Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: I'm not concerned with the Blackhawks' recent 3-5-2 skid, but it is concerning that Chicago could finish the regular season without Keith. The defending champs have five games remaining before the start of the postseason, and after his vicious high stick on Coyle, Keith has put his team in a tough position. For his actions, he should miss the remaining games against Winnipeg, Boston, Arizona, St. Louis and Columbus. The Blackhawks want to sprint rather than crawl into the playoffs, but it will be a challenge to do so without one of their best players and leaders. Coyle's lucky he was not seriously hurt on the play, and he fortunately was able to return and finish the game. That shouldn't matter to the league, though. I'm with you, Scotty: Keith will miss the remainder of the regular season but will be back for Game 1 of the playoffs.


Craig Custance@CraigCustance: This just goes to show how hard it is to repeat in the NHL. Look at the Los Angeles Kings. They won it all in 2014 and didn't even get back into the playoffs last season. So, at least the Blackhawks get points for qualifying. I think this late-season slide is excusable as long as the Blackhawks don't slide their way into a wild-card spot. I know you want to go into the postseason playing well, but there isn't a lot on the line for Chicago right now. The Blackhawks aren't going to catch anyone for second, so they just have to make sure they hang onto third. They're capable of doing that in the final few games. And really, if they're playing the Blues in the first round and win Game 1 on the road, are any of us going to remember these past couple weeks? Probably not.


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