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Defenseman Muzzin making difference for Kings

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- At the beginning of this season, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin was trying to find his way into the lineup. He was scratched for five games in October and it appeared it would be a well-worn door to coach Darryl Sutter's doghouse.

It would have been difficult to imagine then that Muzzin would be trusted to play a lot of minutes against the offensively loaded Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. But Muzzin was a key part of a 6-2 win in Game 2 at both ends of the ice.

The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 entering Game 3 on Saturday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

Muzzin's power-play goal, a fake-first shot past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford early in the third period, was the Game 2 winner. Somewhat lost in the Kings' comeback from a 2-0 deficit was that Muzzin, along with partner Drew Doughty, spent much of the night playing against Chicago's top line of Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa. Muzzin blocked four shots and played 2:46 shorthanded, something he wasn't trusted to do earlier this season.

Kings defenseman Matt Greene sees all of that as the evolution of Muzzin's game.

"Jake's been awesome," Greene said. "He's been a great offensive player for us the past couple of years. His shot's awesome. It's nice to see him finding the back of the net. He's also doing a great job defensively for us … he's really coming into his own being a great two-way defenseman."

Greene pointed to Muzzin's defense as a big part of his improvement. It's been needed because of injuries to Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr, two shutdown defenseman. Mitchell returned for the conference final but Regehr remains out with a knee injury.

Muzzin said having Doughty, Mitchell and Regehr as teammates provided a blueprint for stepping into their roles.

"I've been ready for it, and [I've been] watching those guys and learning from them," Muzzin said. "I was excited for the opportunity. Obviously you want to play in all situations. I got the opportunity. I just want to take advantage of it."

Muzzin could study Doughty, Mitchell and Regehr on the penalty kill from the bench because he didn't play on that unit for most of the season. That seems like an indictment on a top-pairing defenseman, but it might be understandable for one who is in his second full NHL season.

Muzzin, 25, has been known mostly for his offense. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, he has a good shot that pays off at the right time, like in Game 2.

"When you talk about the momentum part of it, there was some momentum there," coach Darryl Sutter said of Muzzin's goal that gave the Kings a 3-2 lead early in the third period.

Muzzin is second to Doughty in scoring among Kings defensemen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has a goal and two assists on the best power play among the four active teams.

"Some shots are going in right now," Muzzin said. "You've got to up your play to win in the playoffs. Playing with [Kopitar] and [Doughty] and guys like that helps, because they're upping their play as well. To get a big goal last night was big for our club. It just feels good to contribute."

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