Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/3/12
LOS ANGELES The impact that physical play can have on a playoff series depends heavily on the manner in which it is applied. Mike Richards' hit on Alex Burrows in Game 1 of the Vancouver series was so much more than a clean, open ice hit that rounded out the final 30 seconds of a playoff game that had already been decided. It was a clear and concise notice to the Canucks that they were going to have to fight tooth and nail for every inch of ice until it was time to shake hands at the series' conclusion. Dustin Brown's leveling of Henrik Sedin in Game 3 was not only a reminder, but an accurate model of the success the Kings had against Vancouver in establishing their own will and identity on the series. While the physicality also weighed heavily into Monday night's 5-2 win in St. Louis, it shouldn't be confused with the emotional post-whistle scrums and jawing that have come to define the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. A recent study of disciplinary statistics over the last four postseasons by The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle found that penalty minutes, major penalties and misconducts rose sharply in the first round of this postseason, though the average number of power plays per game remained virtually unchanged. The before-and-after whistle physicality Monday night was well represented by a pair of Dustin Penner quotes Wednesday from the Kings' practice facility. While he commented that T.J. Oshie's clean third period hit "almost felt good, it was so pure," he also referenced mixed martial arts techniques when describing the retaliation and tangle up of bodies that ensued. "99 of fights start with both guys dropping their gloves and a punch is thrown, and then when I saw a third man inthat's when I said, 'well, that's not fair, I have to come and help,' Penner said. "It wasn't a DDT, it was a rear naked choke hold. That's what they call it in UFC. It's terminology I'm not familiar with, it's just what I was told it was." Hits are measured between whistles, and Los Angeles finished the year with 2,274 of them. It was the second-highest total in the regular season behind the New York Rangers' 2,419. It's also a number buoyed by the play of Dustin Brown, who has finished amongst the top three players in the league in hits for six straight seasons and enters Thursday's Game 3 averaging 4.4 hits per game in the playoffs, not surprisingly among the league's leaders. The Blues' physical efforts are brought about in their speed and their work ethic, as observed by Kings coach Darryl Sutter, and much more nuanced than simply an attempt to aggressively impose a physical will against their opponents. "There are guys that work really hard, and they have a structure, and they're quick," Sutter said. "So they try and outman you, right? It's not that they're trying to pound you into the ice. I mean, who on their team, or who on our team are trying to physically push somebody out?" "Physical is just a lot of times having a good stick and being first and having courage. It's not about running people over. I don't think they're that type of team, and I know from coaching our group, we're not." Earlier this season Oshie described his effectiveness in a breakthrough season "It's off stripping guys of pucks, it's not off making the pretty play at the blueline," the skilled winger said in what was a strong representation of the speed forecheck utilized by Ken Hitchcock, who guided the club to 94 points in his 66 games behind the bench after replacing Davis Payne on November 6. "We're not built for east-west hockey," Hitchcock said Wednesday. "We're not this fancy team that can tight turn the puck all over the ice. We're a straight line team, and that's the way we need to play." It was some north-south hockey that led to a 24-5 shot advantage against the Kings over the final 40 minutes Monday. "I know this is a small victory, but I think we got a lot out of winning the last two periods," Hitchcock said. "I think we got a lot out of that. I think we felt really good that we won the third period. I know it doesn't seem like much, but the game's 5-2 and we hit three posts on the five-on-three. Make it 5-3, they're going to get nervous. But I was proud of the fact that we kept up our emotional level." Left wing Kyle Clifford appears closer to returning for Los Angeles after sustaining a head injury in Game 1 of the Vancouver series when he was checked from behind into the glass by Byron Bitz, a hit that drew a two-game suspension. Clifford was perhaps the most unsung performer in last year's series against the San Jose Sharks, accounting for three goals and five points, and as someone who brings a willingness to engage some of the plumbing along the boards and in tight quarters, Sutter indicated his level of interest in getting the second-year player back in the lineup. "Always as you go along you need lots of guys and guys that are familiar with how you play," he said. "Kyle started the series against Vancouver, and we'd prefer that he started this series, too." When asked where this series stood physically compared any other playoff series he had played in, Penner weighed the question for several seconds, eventually recalling his 2007 Stanley Cup run. "It's tough to say. It's obviously up there. I wouldn't say it's leaps and bounds ahead of anywhere else. I think every playoff game, especially now with the parity in the league, it's getting really physical. You have certain minds on each team that bring that out every shift. I think in Anaheim, we had a different team. We had a lot of meat. We had Brad May, George Parros, Travis Moen, Sean O'Donnell." If the bumping and grinding throughout the playoffs has raised anyone's game, it's Penner's. With six points in seven games, the burly winger is tied for second on the Kings in postseason scoring. "You're kind of nave to that fact that it isn't going to be like this every year," he said. "It wasn't for me. I went to Edmonton, and didn't make it for three years, four years, whatever it was, and then this year, where I am now, I'm just trying to stay in the moment. I'm taking the most of this opportunity."
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