CHICAGO — A split-second decision by Brent Seabrook has altered the course of the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff series against the Blues.
Seabrook was suspended for three games by the NHL for his hit on the Blues’ David Backes in Game 2 on Saturday.
The hit injured the St. Louis captain and has left a major hole in the Hawks’ lineup. It also ratcheted up the intensity in the series between Central Division rivals that was already a pot set to boil. In the hours before the NHL announced the suspension Sunday, a video circulated on the Internet that allegedly shows a Hawks player taunting a dazed Backes by saying “wakey, wakey, Backes.”
“I saw them talking to him,” Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves told reporters in St. Louis. “It makes it a little more gutless. I don’t think there’s any need for that when a hit like that happens. You don’t need to be going after him when he doesn’t even know where he really is.
“I’m not happy about that. I don’t think anybody in this organization is happy about it. To see that happen, I think is just embarrassing in that organization.”
As far as Backes’ condition, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Sunday, “all I know is he’s upright … that’s about it right now. We don’t have any further information and probably won’t until late (Monday). I know one thing: He couldn’t play (Sunday).”
The Blues also were upset about an earlier third-period sequence in which Hawks winger Bryan Bickell went knee-to-knee with Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka and was penalized. Hitchcock claimed it was the second time in the game Bickell attempted such a move.
“The hit on Sobotka, there was a similar hit on (Alex Pietrangelo) in the first period that was really concerning by the same player,” Hitchcock said. “When you’re leg-whipping people, it’s a concern because that’s career-ending. That’s something you don’t want to see on either side.
“That part bothers me more. The hit on (Backes) is a hit that went awry. But the hit on Sobotka was a continuation of what happened to (Pietrangelo) in the first.”
All this should make for high drama when the teams hit the ice for Game 3 on Monday night at the United Center with the Hawks trying to get back in the series after dropping the first two games in overtime thrillers.
They will do that knowing the Blues are unhappy and will take every opportunity to finish their checks with force. As far as all-out retribution for Seabrook’s hit and the alleged taunting that followed, the Hawks aren’t too concerned.
“I think they’re worried about winning games, (so) I don’t think it would be a smart decision for them to kind of retaliate in that way,” defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “Same thing for us, we don’t really think about trying to get after players in certain ways. We’re worried about playing our best and getting the momentum.”
Said Reaves: “If they want to start getting into that battle, we can play the same way (and) we’ll see where it takes us.”
Whatever happens from here, it will have to be without Seabrook for three games as the veteran was suspended for the first time in his career. In its video explaining the suspension, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety cited Seabrook for interference after the veteran drilled Backes in the head with his shoulder, with the puck away from the play.
“While it is possible that Seabrook does not initially recognize that Backes never gains possession of the puck, the onus still is on Seabrook to ensure that he does not hit an ineligible opponent,” the league said. “Seabrook still is in the faceoff circle when Backes overskates the puck. And Seabrook skates some distance before making this hit. So he has time to avoid this check completely. Instead, he skates into the hit and drives up with his right shoulder, delivering a violent blow that causes the defenseless Backes to crash dangerously into the boards.”
In other words, no Seabrook for the next three games.
“It hurts, you know — he’s a leader,” teammate Brandon Saad said. “He’s a good player and he does the right things out there. But for the most part we’ve got to accept the challenge and play without him. We can’t use that as an excuse.”