Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/18/12
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When the Los Angeles Kings edged the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 Thursday night to take a three-games-to-none series lead, it was the sixth time in 12 postseason games that they had held their opponents to one goal or less. The Coyotes were only able to get 19 shots through to goalie Jonathan Quick, and had another 11 blocked, a remarkable ratio even against a team that has flexed its defensive muscle all season. The Kings have not sat back at all in these playoffs, instead relying on waves of barreling, forechecking forwards that force disproportionate action in the offensive zone. Its an evolution of the defensive play they exhibited in the regular season, when their blueline led the way to a second place finish in hits and several games against Phoenix and Dallas two other top-five teams in the hitting category turned into physical, emotional affairs. "You know what, they're pressuring really hard, especially in our own end." Phoenix forward Gilbert Brule said Friday. "The wingers, we're having a hard time getting the puck out. You know, they're pinching all the time. They're having their centermen back them up, their third guy high all the time. It's tough to get past them." Their penalty kill could be worse, as 29 consecutive kills have sustained a 45-48 effort. They havent allowed a power play goal since the first round, outscoring their opponents 4-3 while shorthanded. Penalty killing and goaltending are often key ingredients that aid a teams road effort, and Los Angeles has won seven straight away from Staples Center in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It seems that every shift Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar take while shorthanded, they are getting shots and opportunities in the offensive end, often outchancing their opponents. More intelligent minutes continue to be provided by Mike Richards (three career playoff shorthanded goals), Trevor Lewis and Jeff Carter on the kill. On one side of the coin is the depiction of Los Angeles offensive gains, leaping from a 2.29 goals per game average in the regular season to 3.08 goals per game in the playoffs. On the other side is that consistent, Terry Murray-instilled and Sutter-reinforced complete adherence to responsibility in their own end of the ice. The Kings have shaved more than six tenths of a goal per game off their regular season goals against numbers. While virtually every forward on the roster is responsible defensively including Jeff Carter, whose underrated two-way play was on display Tuesday this playoff run has also clearly highlighted the strides Drew Doughty has made defensively in a season in which he had a little growing up to do. "Everyone forgets how young he is, the expectations he had on him," Willie Mitchell said of Doughty, a plus-10 in the playoffs who averages over 25 and a half minutes of ice time. "Signed himself up a nice deal, but with that comes expectations, and its the first time with expectations. Before hed never had those. Its a first time experience dealing with those, and so I think early on hes a happy-go-lucky guy, but he really cares, and hes really proud, and I think early on, he was trying to do everything and everything, and felt like he had to do so much more than just be who he is, which is a guy whos super passionate about hockey, loves the game, loves competition, and a super talented player." Along with Dan Girardi and perhaps one or two of his New York teammates, Doughty has more than any other defenseman used the playoffs as an enforcement of how effective he can be in his own half of the ice. Two years ago his signature moments were reflected in power play howitzers from the blueline. In May, 2012, its his one-on-one, shoulder-to-chest takedown of Shane Doan that reflects his diverse talents being put to use in the most effective way. As good as many of the numbers have been for Los Angeles, thats badly their power play has struggled this postseason. Mired in a three-for-52 slump since Game 3 against Vancouver, they were unable to sustain much offensive zone time on the man advantage in Thursdays win and experienced difficulty advancing the puck up the ice against the Coyotes effective penalty kill. Of course, the Boston Bruins were five-for-61 on the power play before they erupted for five goals in the finals against Vancouver last June. With Jonathan Quick in net, this is a team that has proven itself capable of eking out narrow wins, a valuable trait to have should they defeat Phoenix and earn the franchises second Stanley Cup Finals berth. The Kings are 5-1 in the playoffs when tied or trailing entering the third period. "Quickie is great," Matt Greene said to Rich Hammond of LA Kings Insider. "Thats another thing that calms everybody down back there, is when you have a guy play pretty well. With Quickie in net, that always helps." "Guys are used to it. Guys have been in these tight, tight games."
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