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Morning Skate: Williams Returns

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings


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» Apr. 23, 2010: Coming Soon

Drew Doughty happily received the congratulatory text message Friday morning. All that remained was to figure out why he was being congratulated.

Game Day Audio - Murray/Vigneault on Doughty, Murray/Richardson Game 5 Preview

Doughty found out soon enough, as he discovered that he is one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s top defenseman. Washington’s Mike Green and Chicago’s Duncan Keith are the other two finalists.

"I got a text from Luke Schenn, and he just kind of said, `Congrats.' I was like, `For what?,'" Doughty said. "I didn't know that they were announcing the finalists today. So he told me, and right away I called my dad to look on the NHL site to see if it was true, and it was."

Here’s another date for Doughty to remember: June 23. He will be in Las Vegas that day, for the NHL awards show, to learn if he will be the second-youngest defenseman in league history to win the Norris. Doughty turned 20 last December. Bobby Orr was 20 years, three months when he won the Norris for the first time in 1968.

Doughty, only in his second season, led all Kings defensemen this season in goals (16), assists (43), points (59), average ice time (24:58, a team high) and plus-minus rating (plus-20), and his numbers in all of those categories were comparable to the NHL’s best defensemen this season.

At this start of this season, Doughty’s name was whispered as a possible Norris finalist, but the volume grew after Doughty was selected to Canada’s Olympic team – as the youngest player on the roster – and thrived in Canada’s run to the gold medal.

His campaign picked up steam as print, broadcast and online pundits league-wide began to take notice. If he won, Doughty would be the first Kings player to win an individual trophy since Rob Blake won the Norris in 1998, the only King to win it.

"Before the season, I didn't really think about it at all," Doughty said. "My first goal was just to play hard for the Kings and make them a playoff team. Then obviously get a shot at making the Olympic team. But as the season kind of wore on, I knew that I was getting mentioned in that category, and from then on I kind of made it my goal to hopefully be a finalist."

Doughty’s selection drew praise from both locker rooms as the Kings prepared to play the Vancouver Canucks in Game 5 of their first-round series tonight.

Kings coach Terry Murray has pushed, all season, for Doughty’s inclusion.

"He has had a great first two years in the league," Murray said. "It's incredible how he's grown, actually, just from the post-Olympics. He developed another level of a game, I thought, when he came back from playing at the world-class level. He showed that he could make plays at full speed. He can play with the best players in the world.

"He reads off things effortlessly. He's just becoming a dynamic player, a very important player, and I think he certainly deserves it. I've been saying, all along this year, that he deserves some consideration for it. Now it's happened. He's going to be in the final vote, and it's great for him."

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault also had warm praise for Doughty.

"There's a young defenseman that has everything that it takes to be an impact player in this league," Vigneault said. "He's got great skill, he competes real hard and plays extremely well under pressure. You just have to look at what he did this year at the Olympics. He was definitely one of the best defensemen on the ice for Team Canada, and he has just continued to progress. It's a well-deserved honor for him."

Murray made moderate changes to his forward lines before tonight’s Game 5, as he shifted one forward on his second, third and fourth lines and returned Justin Williams to the lineup – after a three-game absence – in place of Scott Parse.

The Kings’ top line of center Anze Kopitar and wingers Ryan Smyth and Wayne Simmonds remains intact. Brad Richardson moves up to center the second line, with Alexander Frolov and Dustin Brown, while Williams re-enters the lineup as the third-line right-winger, alongside center Michal Handzus and left winger Fredrik Modin.

Jarret Stoll moves down from the second line to center Rich Clune and Jeff Halpern. No changes are expected on defense or in goal, where Jonathan Quick gets the start.

Williams played in Game 1 but was then a healthy scratch from the next three games after Murray was dissatisfied with Williams’ game.

"I changed things a little bit here, to get some different looks," Murray said after Friday’s morning skate. "We'll get Williams back in the lineup tonight. He's a player that's been to the playoffs and has won the Stanley Cup and, at this time, in Game 5, I need the experience and I also know that he's very capable of putting the puck in the net. He's a creative guy, he can score goals, he can fit with different lines. We can use him on special-teams situations, and I'm looking for a big game from him."

Williams, who missed significant time this season after breaking his leg in late December, has spent most of this season on the first line but now takes on a new role, with Handzus and Modin, on a line that has significant two-way responsibilities.

"I'm looking forward to it, looking forward to elevating my game to the level I know I can play," Williams said. "It starts with a little confidence out there, and I'm going to make sure I never get out again."

The Kings entered this series with 13 players on their roster who had never participated in an NHL postseason before.

Now, they’ve already been through a lot. They’ve played two road games, two overtime games, rallied from a two-goal deficit and lost a third-period lead.

The challenge gets even more intense tonight, in the fifth game of a series tied 2-2. A Kings loss, in front of a hostile Vancouver crowd, would put them one loss away from elimination, but Murray said he’s pleased with how his team has handled pressure thus far.

"I've been very, very happy with how this group has progressed through the start of the playoffs to today," Murray said. "The first game, second game, I thought we were on our heels at the start of the game, like, `Wow, this is a big stage and we're not sure how to deal with it.' We got to Game 4, and I really liked our start. The first period was tremendous. Even through the second period, we did a lot of good things, had the lead going into the third.

"I want to go with that coming into tonight's game. I want to be, `Stay on the attack, stay aggressive, keep our feet moving, on our toes, anticipate what's going to happen,' and good things will happen. Obviously, at the end we've got to be able to shut those games down and that's the part we have to figure out yet. We have done it during the course of the year, and awareness to it here tonight is going to be critical, obviously, if we get to that position again."

If this series goes to a seventh game, which would be played Tuesday in Vancouver, it will be televised in the Southern California area on Prime Ticket. That’s a change from the initial television schedule. A start time for that potential game is to be determined.

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