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Are the L.A. Kings the worst thing to happen to hockey?

The L.A. Kings are on the cusp of hoisting the Stanley Cup, sitting 3-0 ahead of the New Jersey Devils. But their defensive style, reliant on the shot block, drains the life out of hockey, critics say.

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / June 5, 2012

New Jersey Devils left wing Zach Parise (9) fights Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards (10) for the puck in the first period during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Monday, June 4, in Los Angeles.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

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It seems as if no matter how the NHL tweaks hockey to open up the play so that offensive stars can shine, the game still manages to devolve into random tedium as the Stanley Cup playoffs progress, much as it has in the current finals matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils.

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The Kings – an eighth seed in the West that rode an octopus-like goaltender, Jonathan Quick, and near-flawless team defense to the cusp of a Stanley Cup victory (going 15-2 in the playoffs and winning Game 3 against the Devils Monday) – play a style of hockey that has met with a certain derision. The team has come to epitomize a lockdown mentality that takes the air out of the room, and the scoring out of the game.

The Devils can’t really argue with the Kings’ strategy, which relies on big, high-skill players lining up two or three deep in front of the net to deflect pucks, and on corralling bounces for quick rushes and scoring chances at the other end. The Devils themselves were criticized in the 1990s for use of the neutral zone trap, in which players guarded the boards and clogged up the middle of the ice so that opponents struggled even to get close to the net, where future Hall of Fame goalie Marty Brodeur lurked for clean-up duty.

This year, the chief culprit is what some perceive to be overuse of one of the most gutsy plays in hockey: the shot block, in which the defender eliminates elite scoring chances by basically diving in front of a 4-inch-wide, 6-ounce rubber mallet rocketing inches off the ice at 90 miles per hour.

Though the New York Rangers epitomize this tactic, they got bounced by the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals. L.A., meanwhile, has perfected a jittery, block-ready defensive zone trap that gives New Jersey’s star forwards precious little wiggle room and makes most scoring chances a hope for the best – a pinball, instead of an actual skilled play.

The result: “It comes down to a bounce…. It’s not going to be pretty, and it won’t be much fun,” writes Sam Fels, a Chicago Blackhawks blogger, on the NBC Los Angeles website.

Los Angeles blew past the Devils 4-0 in Game 3 on Monday, but previous matches had been low-scoring and even tedious. The first two games went to overtime, but there was little of the flow and go, run and gun that had dominated the playoffs' early rounds, in which every team with more than 100 points on the season was eliminated. Hence, the finals fell to teams that proved they could play defensive games studiously and consistently.

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