A stitched-up Jeff Carter moves on to the next game

An incidental but valuable benefit of growing a playoff beard is that it can hide some of the cuts and bruises players accumulate during a long postseason run.

Jeff Carter’s thick beard almost covered a line of stitches on the right side of his chin, a painful souvenir of the high stick the Kings forward absorbed from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith on Tuesday. The one-handed and admittedly retaliatory swing earned Keith a deserved one-game suspension from the NHL.

Keith, enraged after Carter had slashed at his bare hand, might have been aiming at Carter’s shoulder and later apologized for his poor aim. Still, he had to be held accountable for striking Carter in the face and for the damage he caused.


While Keith got a game off, Carter got about 20 stitches on the outside and inside of his mouth, one chipped tooth, and a couple of cracked teeth.

“But I didn’t actually lose any,” Carter said with that remarkably matter-of-fact tone hockey players use to downplay injuries that leave lesser athletes in helpless tears.

Carter, playing center while Mike Richards recovers from a concussion, returned to the game and assisted on the empty-net goal that capped the Kings’ 3-1 victory and cut the Blackhawks’ Western Conference finals lead to two games to one.

Keith, who leads Chicago with an average of 24 minutes 44 seconds’ ice time per game, will miss Game 4 on Thursday at Staples Center. Carter is expected to play as the Kings try to extend their home winning streak to 16.

What are a few stitches and soreness when your playoff prospects are on the line?

“We were battling in front of the net, up the ice,” Carter said in recapping what happened. “I think I took a swing at his glove there — he was trying to pick it up. I was in front of him. Next thing I knew, I was getting a stick to the face.”

Asked during a news conference Wednesday how Carter was doing, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter had a quick response.

“Awesome. I wish I was Jeff Carter today,” Sutter said, drawing laughter from the assembled media.

Sutter and Carter spoke to reporters before the NHL handed down Keith’s ban, but both said they had put the incident behind them.

“I moved on right after the game,” Sutter said. “Had my feelings on it. I think I’m correct. After that it doesn’t matter. To be quite honest, it never has.”

Carter shrugged off suggestions the Kings were angry and might retaliate Thursday.

“There’s bigger things to worry about right now,” he said, his speech slightly impaired by a swollen lip and a gap where a bridge sat until it fell out last week. “We’re in a fight here, down two games to one. I don’t think that’s on our minds.

“If he does get suspended, it’s a huge loss for their team. He’s a big part of their team. Nothing we can do about it. We have to get ready to play.”

The Kings have no choice but to be ready.

They’re still trailing in the series, more battered and bruised every day, and still unsure if Richards will return Thursday. Richards, injured on an unpenalized hit by Chicago’s Dave Bolland in Game 1, worked out lightly Tuesday and skated Wednesday with the Kings’ extra players, but his status remains uncertain.

Carter will have to play a prominent role for the Kings to pull even and avoid giving the Blackhawks a chance to end the series at home Saturday. He has already reconfirmed his versatility by moving from right wing back to his natural center spot the last two games, between Dustin Penner and rookie Tyler Toffoli. Carter won 19 of 28 faceoffs in those games and contributed a goal and two assists, providing offense to a team starving for production.

“It’s been fine,” Carter said of returning to the middle. “Obviously, going back to center, it’s something that I’m familiar with. Very comfortable playing in the middle. I think it gives me a little more kind of free rein, if you will.

“You know, I think with the way that Dustin and Tyler have been playing the last two games as well has made it pretty easy for myself, pretty easy for our line to get things going.”

If Carter and his linemates don’t keep things going, the Kings might soon be gone. Getting mad about Keith’s high stick won’t help them get even in the series.

Twitter: @helenenothelen