EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- From opening day to the end of April, the Los Angeles Kings' dressing room was quieter. They are not a chatty bunch to begin with, and when defenseman Matt Greene was gone, his deep tone was noticeably absent.
"He's a big voice in the locker room, and when he was missing this year, you could really feel it in the atmosphere in the dressing room," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "It's not something that is necessarily needed to play well, but it lightens the atmosphere and it keeps things loose, which is a big part of a season and the playoffs. It can't be serious all the time. We certainly missed him in that way, and certainly what he brings to us on the ice. We've missed his experience and leadership."
Greene was popular topic a day after L.A. took a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference Semifinals against the San Jose Sharks. In his second game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Greene had a booming impact in the form of a hit on Sharks forward T.J. Galiardi to send a strong message in the first period of a 3-0, Game 5 win Thursday.
Greene is a quintessential Kings role player who won't show up much on the statistics sheet, but his insertion back in the lineup gives L.A. a renewed identity born from last season's Stanley Cup run. From the back end of the defense, Greene generates respect that reflects his flash-free physical style. He wears an "A" for a reason.
"When he comes back, I think the things that you guys don't see -- the leadership in the dressing room -- that powerful voice," forward Mike Richards said. "All year we missed him on the ice, too, just how physical he plays and how hard he is to play against. Even before we got [Robyn] Regehr, too, I think that's kind of what we were lacking on the back end.
"We've got some skilled guys and guys that move the puck well but I don't think you can replace somebody who plays that physical and how hard both of those guys are to play against, and Matt coming back is a big boost for us, and I think you can just see how different a team we are with him in the lineup just setting the tone physically."
Greene was largely forgotten. He played in an opening-day loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 19 and it was later revealed he needed surgery Jan. 24 to repair a herniated disk in his back. He returned April 18 and played four games, but coach Darryl Sutter didn't feel he was sharp enough. By then the Kings acquired Regehr, a Greene clone, in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.
Greene tried not to get down. He quietly skated with the extras for the first nine games of the postseason and waited for the call.
"I was hurt (injured)," Greene said. "There was nothing you can do about it. That's it. I mean, this whole year you could look at as being discouraged just because of injury. But you've got to get yourself ready and get back in the lineup."
Greene acknowledged it was difficult to not be with the team during his recovery. He was an integral part of an L.A. defense that hardly changed personnel. Each pairing had a left-handed/right-handed, stay-at-home/freelance dynamic, and Greene played the conservative role alongside Alec Martinez.
"You want to be around the guys," Greene said. "You want to get a feel for the team so you feel like you're still part of it. That's the tough part of it. But again, it's no good if you're just floating around. It's real easy to go from being a good guy to being a distraction if you're not playing all the time. I definitely miss being around the room but it's kind of just more fuel to get back and healthy."
Greene's comeback fit neatly in a thorough Game 5 for the Kings, who will try to close out the series Sunday in Game 6 at HP Pavilion (NBCSN, RDS, TSN). Los Angeles is 7-1 all-time when leading a series 3-2. The loss came in 1968 to the Minnesota North Stars.
While the clichés were thrown around about the fourth win being the hardest, and getting a good start on the road, Sutter assessed his team and the tightness of the postseason when asked if Game 5 was the best they've played.
"Best in this series," Sutter said. "We've won seven games and lost four. Don't expect much more. That's about as good as you can get."
Sutter wouldn't say if he would continue with his mixed lines, notably the breaking up of forwards Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. The coach said it moved some minutes around for his wings and "probably took a little fatigue out of some guys' shifts."
Sutter said center Jarret Stoll skated for about 15 minutes, back on the ice for the first time Friday since he was believed to be concussed by Sharks forward Raffi Torres in Game 1. Stoll had been riding a stationary bike.
"We'll keep seeing where it goes," Sutter said. "It's not [as] … if you fall off the bike because you had a headache or something and you're back to square one. It's basically, 'OK, he rode the bike for a certain heart rate for eight minutes,' so it's really not that big a deal. So this morning he skated for 15, so you just evaluate it again tomorrow morning and go from there. That means there's still a significant long ways to go."
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