The Kings have been lighting the lamp to the impressive tune of three goals per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but for a team that scored the second-fewest goals in the League during the regular season and is about to face an opponent -- and a goalie -- that hasn't been giving up very many lately, that seems almost certain to change in the Western Conference Finals.
That means the Los Angeles Kings are going to have to win with its defense, and while Jonathan Quick has been stellar in net his defensemen will still need to put him in position to succeed. Out of all the blueliners on the Kings, just one has a championship pedigree. That kind of experience, as well as his role on the Kings' top defensive pair, makes Rob Scuderi the X-Factor for L.A. as it looks to reach its first Stanley Cup Final in 19 years.
Scuderi has known both the ecstasy and the agony of a Stanley Cup Final, reaching the championship round in both 2008 and 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He wasn't known for his offensive contributions during those postseason runs, notching a total of eight points over a combined 44 games, and that's still the case as Scuderi has just one point this spring. But in 2008 and 2009 Scuderi was a defensive force, helping to shut down opposition forwards while putting together a solid plus-5 rating in each postseason.
That dependability will be important as Scuderi, along with defensive partner Drew Doughty, will be counted on to neutralize Phoenix's top line of Ray Whitney, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. To this point Scuderi has delivered, putting in another plus-5 rating over the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Rote, by-the-book defensive play on its own isn't necessarily enough to win a series this deep in the playoffs, however. Championships are often decided by the heads-up play that requires a player to go beyond the strict requirements of his job description. Scuderi knows that more than most as it was his gutsy stop in the crease (http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=43536) when Marc-Andre Fleury was out of position in Game 6 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final that preserved a 2-1 win for the Penguins. Three nights later, Scuderi was skating with Stanley.
Los Angeles signed Scuderi to a four-year contract after that postseason so he could deliver clutch moments like that at this time of year, and it would seem the change of locations hasn't prevented him from performing his same tricks of saving shots at the goal line this season (http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=35&id=152116). To defeat a Coyotes team that is playing its best hockey of the year at the right time, the Kings will need the smart, unquantifiable moments that make a champion.
As L.A. takes aim at its first title shot in almost two decades, Scuderi could be just the man to help deliver them.
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