LOS ANGELES -- Come playoff time, checking lines often stand out more than during the regular season. The ability to contain the opposition's top talent is only half the battle. Often, the most memorable shutdown players and trios are notable for the offense they provide as well.
A checking line's ability to turn the tables and make opposing stars chase them in the offensive zone goes a long way when playoff games are tight and goals are suddenly tougher to come by.
In Los Angeles, a trio is emerging that could spell doom for the Vancouver Canucks' top line of Alex Burrows, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. The Kings' third line of Michal Handzus, Fredrik Modin and Brad Richardson has drawn the assignment of countering the Canucks' top guns.
"It's a tough draw every night but we've done an okay job so far," Richardson told NHL.com. "They're talented, they're going to get their chances, we know that. Our philosophy is that the more we can keep it in the offensive zone, keep it down low and cycle, the less they'll have chances in (our) offensive zone."
After three games, Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin has no goals, Daniel has two and Burrows has none.
"Offense, a lot of times, is the best defense," Modin told NHL.com.
Handzus said that a checking line must pose an offensive threat, especially against elite talent.
"If you spend the whole game in your zone," he told NHL.com, "you can be the best defensive player, but those top players, they are going to make plays and score goals."
Respect is key when facing the Sedins and Burrows.
"They scored last night, they scored in the first game," Handzus added. "So I don't think we shut them down totally. They're still creating chances."
Kings coach Terry Murray chose the trio because their first responsibility is defensive when the Sedin line is on the ice.
"The only way you can (stop the Sedin line) is by checking very well," Murray said. "That's got to be your mindset going into the matchup at the start of that shift. You have to know that we're in a defensive situation and if you play with that attitude, you're going to work hard to get the puck."
The checking line's second job is to turn the tables.
"Once you get it back, with Handzus, Modin and Richardson, those guys have the ability to attack with some speed, possession, can make plays in the middle of the ice, and make smart decisions at the offensive blue line to get a forecheck going," Murray said.
Modin, 35, and Handzus, 33, were chosen for the assignment based as much on their play throughout their careers as for their work during the current campaign. Each of the pair has two power-play goals in the series.
"Modin and Handzus, for me, have great resumes in the offensive part of the game," Murray said. "I go back with Handzus in Philadelphia and even follow him back to (his) St. Louis Blues days when he was paired with Pavol Demitra. They had great success in the offensive part of the game."
"Same thing with Modin. He played in Tampa Bay and was a big part of the Stanley Cup championship year there. He had a great series against the Flyers in the conference final (that year). You saw that the offensive part of the game was always there with him, and he's just bringing it together right now with great chemistry."
Murray says that the 25-year-old Richardson made clear his intention to work on the offensive side of his game during a meeting with the coach at the end of the 2008-09 season, his rookie year.
"A little bit of a challenge (brought) it out," Murray said. "He shows that knack and that skill to be able to play at that level."
The Kings have scored an amazing seven goals on 12 man-advantage opportunities to seize a 2-1 series lead. Richardson scored a game-winning even-strength goal in Game 3. The Kings have scored only four times in 5-on-5 situations in the series.
"My first thought was ‘just get it on net' -- you never know, you might surprise (Luongo)," Richardson told NHL.com. "To be honest, I didn't really aim it, just tried to get it on net as quickly as possible. Luckily, he wasn't ready or was just sleeping on that one. It just snuck in."
Drafted by Colorado in the fifth round of the 2003 Entry Draft, Richardson got his chance at the big time when the Kings acquired him for a second-round pick prior to the 2008-09 season. He relishes the chance to work his two-way game with Modin and Handzus. As for the Sedins, they're tricky.
"(The Sedins) love getting in the zone, stopping up and making plays off the rush, little saucer passes to each other, little give-and-goes," Richardson said. "They really use the back of the net well. They take it from one side, bring it to the other -- they know where each other is going to be -- and as soon as they bring it to the back of the net, Burrows starts going to the front. It's a tough play to try to defend. We're trying to cut that off, trying to pin them (so) that they don't have any time."
Easier said than done, but so far, so good for Richardson and the Kings. Eight different Kings have scored goals in the series. Vancouver features just four different scorers.
"They've had a great year, they're great players," Richardson said of Burrows and the Sedins. "We know they're going to get chances, we just want to keep those chances to a minimum."