One swing of the stick might have altered the Chicago Blackhawks' chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
With five games left before the playoffs start, they'll have to maintain their top-three spot in the Central Division without their top defenseman.
With the status of Duncan Keith cloudy, the Blackhawks close a four-game road trip Friday night seeking their fourth straight win over the last-place Winnipeg Jets.
In third place in the division, Chicago (44-26-7) is headed for a first-round matchup with Dallas or St. Louis - if it can at the least remain in third. Nashville has a chance to catch the Blackhawks and relegate them to a wild-card berth.
The Blackhawks have surrendered 3.1 goals per game during a 3-5-1 stretch, and keeping the puck out of their net will likely be tougher without Keith. The three-time All-Star winner has been offered an in-person hearing by the NHL for high-sticking Minnesota's Charlie Coyle during Tuesday's 4-1 loss.
The NHL's Department of Player Safety announced late Thursday night that Keith waived his right to an in-person hearing, and he will instead have a phone hearing Friday afternoon.
The offer for an in-person hearing meant the league can suspend Keith more than five games, but it doesn't have to.
After being dropped to the ice on his back in the first period, Keith whipped his stick into Coyle's face. Keith - who has been suspended twice in the past - was handed a 10-minute match penalty and ejected, and the Blackhawks went on to lose their first road game in four tries.
''We've done it before,'' captain Jonathan Toews said. ''Whatever happens we'll make the best of any situation. That's the only way to look at it.''
Chicago was already facing personnel issues at the back end, as goaltender Corey Crawford will sit out an eighth straight game with an undisclosed injury - reportedly to the head.
Coach Joel Quenneville says he expects Crawford on the ice this weekend. The Blackhawks open a three-game homestand against Boston on Sunday.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook, who sat one game with an illness, is expected back Friday along with center Artem Anisimov, who missed two with a lower-body injury. However, forward Marian Hossa is sick and will not make the trip to Winnipeg after scoring his 499th career goal against the Wild.
Crawford's backup Scott Darling will make his eighth straight start in the matchup with the Jets (31-39-7), against whom he logged his lone shutout March 18. Darling made 28 saves in a 4-0 road win, Chicago's third straight in the season series.
The Hawks have won five of their last six against the Jets and are 8-1-0 in their last nine at Winnipeg.
Darling has posted a 2.36 goals-against average while going 3-3-1 in place of Crawford.
The Jets enter on a three-game skid as they continue to sputter offensively. They've scored 14 goals during a 2-4-2 stretch.
Mark Scheifele scored his team-leading 26th early in the third period to tie it Wednesday, but Ottawa answered less than two minutes later in a 2-1 win that dropped the Jets to 17-19-3 at the MTS Centre.
Scheifele has three goals and four assists in a five-game point streak.
''Getting closer and closer to 30 (goals) is obviously a goal of mine," Scheifele said. "But the biggest thing is winning games and help this team and grow as a full 200-foot player.''