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East softball team looks to defend its CIC title

East's quest for a third straight Cook Inlet Conference sotball title starts Tuesday when the conference tournament opens with all eight teams in action at Albrecht Fields.

The T-birds cruised to a perfect 20-0 overall record (14-0 CIC), outscoring their opponents 225-13.

More than half of East's wins have been shutouts, thanks in large part to senior pitcher Sydney Smith, who has given up 59 hits through 92 innings. Smith has racked up 19 wins and 100 strikeouts against 10 walks.

The T-birds' offense has been just as dominant.

East is batting .460 as a team and has seven players averaging more than one hit per game. Taria Page and Sierra Rosenzweig lead the team with 39 hits apiece and are among six T-birds batting .436 or better.

Page is batting a staggering .780, going 39 of 50 in just 20 games, most of which have lasted five innings or less due to the mercy rule, which is often invoked in East games. Page, a junior, has 22 extra-base hits, including 13 home runs, and 41 RBIs.

The top four CIC teams advance to the large-school state tournament that will be held June 6-7 at Cartee Fields. East has gone 8-0 at state the past two seasons en route to consecutive titles.

LOS ANGELES -- The most obvious showcases of the Los Angeles Kings' passion to recapture the Stanley Cup that was won by the Chicago Blackhawks last year have been in special teams.

Monday night, in shoving Chicago to the brink of elimination with a 5-2 victory at Staples Center, the Kings scored two power-play goals and blanked the Blackhawks in three penalty-kill situations.

Against the NHL's most potent regular-season scoring team, the Kings have killed 11 of 13 penalties this series to take a 3-games-to-1lead as the Western Conference finals moves to Chicago for Game 5 on Wednesday night.

"It's definitely an intense battle, but we're confident in our rotation, in what we're supposed to do, and we have one of the best goalies in the game back there if something breaks down," said Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin.

That's what happened right away Monday, when the Kings killed off an Anze Kopitar hooking penalty thanks to one of goaltender Jonathan Quick's 22 saves, on Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa.

Then, after Muzzin provided a slight push on Hossa to help clinch Hossa's goalie-interference penalty, the defenseman scored the game's opening goal by launching a shot that beat Chicago goalie Corey Crawford while screened by 6-foot-4 Kings center Jeff Carter.

"(Carter's) a big body," Muzzin said. "We've talked about keeping the power play simple. Get traffic, and you'll get shots through. I looked up and I didn't see the goalie. He's down, looking for a lane and I'm looking for net. Great job by Jeff not jumping in the way.

"That got the ball rolling for us. Capitalizing on those power plays set us up for the rest of the game."

After ranking 27th in the NHL during the regular season on power-play scoring effectiveness with 15.1 percent (43-284), the Kings are now functioning at a 27 percent clip (16 for 60) that's the best among the four remaining teams.

"We're working harder to get pucks through, making it simpler to get pucks to the net instead of tic-tac-toe (passing) all the time," Muzzin said.

Four times now in the postseason, the Kings have scored at least two power-play goals in a game, and they were once riding a six-game streak with a man-advantage goal.

The second one Monday gave them a 3-0 lead with 4:04 left in the first period. Muzzin passed to Justin Williams, who whipped the puck toward the net with Kings captain Dustin Brown redirecting it past Crawford.

"Our systems are the same, our breakouts are the same, we're just executing," Brown said. "The power plays ... were a result of keeping pucks alive, getting people around the net. It's all about being hard on the puck. I know, as a (penalty killer), when you can't clear it ... it's tough on you."

Muzzin and fellow defenseman Drew Doughty said that same momentum-changing benefit is at play on the penalty kill.

Chicago ranked 10th in the NHL in power-play effectiveness during the regular season.

Quick saw a blast by defenseman Duncan Keith blocked by a teammate on the Blackhawks' final power play, and he shrugged off antagonism by Chicago's Patrick Sharp at the net just as he did a question about the difficulty of keeping the high-powered defending champions so silent with an extra man.

"Just trying to focus one shift at a time, it's a two-minute game you're trying to play," Quick said. "I don't know we're doing anything different. ... These are the kind of teams you're going to play this time of year."

The Los Angeles Kings have reached three consecutive Western Conference finals, and that means we hear more from Kings coach Darryl Sutter.

Sutter is a man of few words. But they are memorable ones.

"I'm not a philosopher or Nostradamus or nothing," he once said, declining to speculate about the playoffs. But like Casey Stengel, he may well be a philosopher after all.

After the Kings scored five unanswered third-period goals in a 6-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 last week, Sutter was asked what inspirational speech he gave his players during the second intermission.

"You hear about all these big speeches that coaches make and all that," Sutter said in his low, gravelly Alberta rancher's voice. "You know what? The players are getting the hell beat out of them. They're sweating and bleeding. They don't need, quite honest, all that. They don't need some coach coming in there yelling and hollering. I don't get that. That's not me. I don't do that."

That was a long answer for Sutter. He usually speaks in succinct phrases, often punctuated with lengthy, almost awkward pauses. It's clear he doesn't enjoy having to map out his words for reporters.

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said Sutter did the same with his players.

"When Darryl doesn't come in and say too much, that means he's mad at us," Doughty said after Game 2. "If he's just staring at us in the room and making little comments like 'Oh, Toews is the best player in the world' or things like that, then we know he's not happy and we need to do something about it."

At the Stanley Cup finals in 2012, Sutter described the day he got the phone call from the Kings telling him he was hired.

"I think I was in the barn," he said, adding that he was not shoveling manure, "but I had that day. I was probably warming up. It was cold."

He once discussed the prospect of playing a road game against the Nashville Predators.

"They haven't lost at home since Christ was a child," he said.

Nuggets like those are why it is a good thing Sutter's team is in the conference finals again.

Tourney schedule

CIC softball tournament

Albrecht Fields

Tuesday's games

• 6 p.m. -- East vs. Eagle River; Dimond vs. Chugiak

• 7:45 p.m. -- South vs. Service; Bartlett vs. West.

 


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