Duncan Keith’s short fuse puts Blackhawks in a tough spot

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Duncan Keith is suspended for the third time in four years. (AP Photo)

Technically speaking, Trevor van Riemsdyk is replacing Duncan Keith in the lineup for however long his suspension lasts. He’ll be on the top pairing with Niklas Hjalmarsson, he’ll get extended minutes, he’ll see more time on special teams.

In reality, six or seven guys will be trying to fill those skates.

“It’ll be a group of us stepping up, it won’t be just one guy filling in for Duncs,” van Riemsdyk said. “He does too many special things and he’s too great of a player for one guy to come in and fill his void.”

Keith’s immediate future still is uncertain, as no date has yet been set for his hearing with the Department of Player Safety to discuss his stick-swinging incident Tuesday in Minnesota. He’s likely to be suspended for more than five games, meaning it’ll spill into the postseason. But exactly how many playoff games will he miss? Will he appeal such a decision? And how will the Blackhawks manage without him?

These are all questions for another day. As for Thursday, Keith declined to speak to reporters, leaving his teammates and coach to speak for him. It’s Keith’s third suspension in four years — he was banned five games for elbowing Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin in 2012, and he was banned one game for a similar stick-swinging incident against Los Angeles’ Jeff Carter during the 2013 Western Conference final.

Keith’s always played with an edge, and he’s always had a short fuse. One memorable incident occurred during training camp in 2013, when Keith — seemingly out of nowhere — snapped and absolutely pummeled a hapless Ben Smith during a meaningless scrimmage after the two battled for positioning in front of the net.

All three suspensions have come from retaliation plays. Sedin had delivered a high hit earlier in that game. Carter had slashed Keith’s hand as he reached for his dropped glove. And Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle knocked Keith down, prompting him to deliver the one-handed slash across the face from his back.

Does that make Keith a dirty player? Or does he simply need to do a better job of keeping his emotions in check? Joel Quenneville danced around the topic.

“We always talk about discipline as a team,” Quenneville said. “We feel we’re pretty strong in that area. We deal with it the right way, and we feel going forward we have to be smart about how we play on the ice, how we react to different situations, and [make sure] we don’t hurt the team. … His competitiveness is part of what makes him a great player. I just think that being smart, and knowing the limit, is what we have to deal with.”

Michal Rozsival, who played a season-high 22:13 on Tuesday in the wake of Keith’s ejection, stood by his teammate.

“Things happen in the game,” Rozsival said. “It’s a physical game, and I still don’t believe he was trying to hit him in the head. Sometimes you swing your stick, you try to slash a guy, but I still think he didn’t aim for his head.”

One thing is certain: Keith lost his composure, and it put the Hawks in a bad spot — and they weren’t in a great spot to begin with. But to a man, the Hawks pointed to their history of handling adversity, and of defying odds.

“It’s kind of the nature of this group,” Rozsival said. “I don’t know why. It’s just something that is in the guys, in the locker room. When times are tough, it seems like everybody is trying to elevate our game. That’s something this group has [done] before, so hopefully we can do it again.”

NOTES: Corey Crawford (apparent head injury) still hasn’t skated, though Quenneville said “he’s really progressed well here” and could start skating this weekend. Marian Hossa, meanwhile, is sick and will miss Friday’s game in Winnipeg. Artem Anisimov (lower body) and Brent Seabrook (sick) will return to the lineup, and Scott Darling will make his eighth straight start in goal.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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