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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

It's plodder's day for Kings' Matt Greene

The rugged defenseman, not known for his speed, gets into position to score the go-ahead goal short-handed in a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference semifinal opener.

April 28, 2012|Helene Elliott

ST. LOUIS — Kings defenseman Matt Greene dashed up the right side

No, that's not accurate. The Michigan native plods more than he dashes.

OK. Greene, known for his rugged defensive play rather than his scoring touch, darted toward the St. Louis Blues' net

No, that doesn't capture the spirit of the thing, either.

Greene himself came up with the best description of his pace in scoring the short-handed goal that launched the Kings to a 3-1 victory over the Blues on Saturday in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series.

"Lumbered," he said. "Maybe that's it."

He's not the guy you'd pick to get to the net fastest, but somehow he was there and in position to convert the rebound of a shot by Dustin Brown that had been stopped by St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott.

"You get there eventually," Greene said.

The tortoise beat the hares Saturday at Scottrade Center, with Greene providing the winner on his first career playoff goal. It was also the first short-handed goal by a Kings defenseman since Rob Blake scored one against Calgary in 1993, the year the Kings made their only trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

Almost scary, isn't it?

It's too early to predict what will happen in this series, let alone the Cup finals, but the Kings are getting valuable contributions from unexpected sources.

With their top line neutralized by the Blues on Saturday, winger Dustin Penner and the defense corps provide their scoring. Penner fed an onrushing Slava Voynov for the goal that brought the Kings even at 1-1 at 16:58 of the first period, and Greene trailed Brown up ice on the go-ahead goal late in the second period. Penner also banked a shot off the boards and into an empty net with 15 seconds left to clinch the Kings' sixth consecutive road playoff triumph.

The short-handed goal was the turning point, and it was possible because Greene made a good read.

"I just kind of got lucky on the play, following it up and took a chance at it. That's definitely not drawn up," Greene said. "Brownie had a jump on his guy and I was looking for a drop pass and maybe just more of a decoy. And the puck was just laying there and I just tried to chip it."

And so he did. The colors of this series were expected to be black and blue, not Brown and Greene, but that goal surprised the Blues probably even more than it surprised Greene.

"Their D beat one of our forwards back up the ice," Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock said of Greene, almost as if he couldn't believe it.

Greene on Saturday also displayed a rare talent: He drew smiles from both Coach Darryl Sutter and goaltender Jonathan Quick.

Sutter is blunt and can be contrary with reporters, but he grinned like a kid with a new toy when asked about Greene's goal.

"It was awesome to see Matt Greene go all the way, 200 feet, to the blue paint to score," Sutter said.

Quick, whose strong first period kept the Kings afloat against the fast-starting Blues, is polite in interviews but usually serious and unemotional. But he couldn't help smiling while discussing Greene's goal-scoring feat.

"Good for him," Quick said. "He's blocked so many shots on the PK, it's good to see him get one and put one in the net there."

Not that Greene expects to make it a habit. He said his short-handed goal — the Kings' third in postseason play this spring — was almost an accident and not by design.

"We're just trying to play good defense and hopefully that leads to some chances," he said. "If we're playing our system the right way, then maybe we get a couple of chances. We've been lucky to capitalize so far in the playoffs, but you've got to protect first before you start thinking about that."

The race might not always go to the swiftest skater, and the Kings' race is far from over.

"It's definitely a great feeling to be able to chip in and help out a little bit, but we've got a lot of work to do," Greene said. "It's fun right now, but it's a new day tomorrow."

For Greene, tomorrow can't come lumbering along fast enough.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter.com/helenenothelen

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