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Williams Gets Green Light for Thursday

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
If Justin Williams gets an itchy scalp, the Kings might be in trouble. Otherwise, coach Terry Murray said he has no reservations about putting Williams back in the lineup.

Williams has been sidelined for three-plus weeks because of a dislocated shoulder, but Williams remains a strong possibility to return for Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs, to be played Thursday night in San Jose.

After making it through a lengthy, full-team practice for a second consecutive day, Williams stopped short of pronouncing himself ready to go, but said he felt good. Murray said that if Williams is comfortable enough to play, he will be in the lineup Thursday and, in fact, Murray said he expects Williams to play. A decision is expected Wednesday.

``He's got the green light. It's 100 percent,’’ Murray said after Tuesday’s practice. ``His strength is great. He did all the testing. The only restriction would be because of the shoulder harness that he's wearing. Scratching the top of your head is basically what he couldn't do.’’

Williams continues to practice with a tight, vest-like brace protecting his shoulder and, for the first time since the injury, he participated in some contact drills. Williams said he asked teammate Drew Doughty to ``battle’’ with him in practice to test the shoulder.

Justin Williams dives to block a shot by San Jose defenseman Doug Murray.
``Because a lot of my game is shaking off checks,’’ Williams said. ``If I'm not comfortable, and I can't do that, my impact goes down drastically. ... Overall, it felt better than yesterday. I hope tomorrow feels better than today. That's all I can say, really.’’

Offseason surgery remains an option for Williams, but he has been medically cleared to play, assuming he feels comfortable and confident enough. Williams said he intended to talk with Murray after practice Tuesday in order to discuss his possible return.

Murray said Williams would immediately go back onto one of the Kings’ top two lines, and that he had potential line combinations written out, ``waiting for me on the corner of the desk,’’ if Williams is able to return for Game 1.

``He's put in so much work since the injury,’’ Murray said. ``He's been gearing himself mentally, right from the time he was injured, to get ready to play in the playoffs. So I do expect (him to play), and I just need to hear it.’’

Scott Parse, who is recovering from a hip injury, continues to practice, but there has been no timetable set for Parse’s possible return.

Murray put to rest any potential debate when asked Tuesday if there was any scenario in which backup goalie Jonathan Bernier would be scheduled for a start during the first-round series against the Sharks.

``No,’’ Murray said, then added for emphasis, ``No.’’

Jonathan Quick started 60 games for the Kings this season, and his 2.24 goals-against average ranked fourth among NHL goalies who played in at least 55 games this season.

Rookie-of-the-Year canddiate Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks grew up in London, Ontario with Drew Doughty.
The Kings and Sharks are plenty familiar with each other, given that the teams play in the same state and the same division. There’s also a long backstory between two of the teams’ top players: Doughty and the Sharks’ Logan Couture.

Doughty and Couture were born less than nine months apart in 1989, both grew up in London, Ontario, and were teammates in minor-junior hockey.

``We texted each other and we were talking a bit about (the first-round series), but no friends on the ice,’’ Doughty said. ``We're friends back home in London, Ontario, but when we hit the ice, especially in this playoff series, it's going to be war and it's going to be a lot of fun and, like I said, there are no friends out there.’’

This series will be only the third in NHL history involving two California teams. The Kings beat the Oakland Seals in the first round of the 1969 playoffs, and the Anaheim Ducks beat the Sharks in the first round of the 2009 playoffs.

Murray, who was drafted in 1970 by the newly renamed California Golden Seals, said he thinks this playoff series will positively impact hockey in the state.

``Hockey in California is in great shape,’’ Murray said. ``I was very impressed, when I first got here, to get on the road and to the rinks and see the number of kids that play hockey and love the game. This is only going to be a wonderful thing for the youth hockey program, for the state, for the fans, to know that hockey is here.

``It's a wonderful sport. We get great support from the fans. There's going to be a lot of emotion, a lot of energy in the buildings, and I'm looking forward to getting started. I think it's going to be a revved-up game.’’

Kevin Westgarth battles for a puck with Douglas Murray of the Sharks.
A fair assumption would be that if Williams returns to the Kings’ lineup, Kevin Westgarth will come out. But will that end up being the case?

Westgarth’s minutes have been limited in late-season games, and typically, the need for an ``enforcer’’ is greatly reduced in the playoffs, but Murray didn’t rule out the possibility of Westgarth staying in the lineup, at least at the start of the series.

``He's not just that loaded gun coming off the bench,’’ Murray said. ``He's skating. He's skating as good as I've ever seen him skate, and I've seen him skate from the first day he ever came out of college, to Flyers development camp. He and his brother came to that one. I remember what I saw and what I'm seeing today. His game has improved dramatically. So I want to give him kudos for that.

``He has worked very hard this year to get to where he is right now, with the adjustment to the NHL level and the speed and puck-handling. It's getting better. Now, when you get into the playoffs, is the role of the tough guy there? Maybe early. There's always stuff happening, when everybody wants to set the tone and tempo for a series, so maybe early. Then, as you move on it probably becomes very limited.’’

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