Dustin Brown’s journey from trade bait to playoff hero for LA Kings
It was late February and the hockey world was heating up with discussion about the possible destination of Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash. One of the teams rumored to have interest were the Los Angeles Kings, a team in desperate need of an offensive kick in the butt and toiling just outside of the Western Conference's top 8 after entering the season with high expectations.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi dropped out of the Nash sweepstakes and instead pulled the trigger on his Jeff Carter, reuniting him with his old buddy in Philadelphia Mike Richards.
Amid all that, Lombardi quietly floated the name of his captain, Dustin Brown, to a few select teams. Brown was slumping with just one goal in his previous 13 games and with the pressure building in Los Angeles, Lombardi needed to find a way to spark his lineup. Word got out that Brown was being dangled and he was quickly pulled off the market as fast as he was put out there.
What did Brown think about being potential trade bait? Via Rich Hammond from February:
"I can't say you don't think about it, but it's more along the lines of getting here and getting on the ice and working on what I need to do to play well on Saturday. Ultimately, that's my main focus, is being the best I can for every game. It's the same thing every year, around this time. Your name gets thrown out there, other names get thrown out, and at the end of the day, you've got to get yourself ready to play. You can't worry about stuff like that."
The very next day Brown went out and tallied a special teams natural hat trick (two power play, one short-handed) during a 4-0 shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks. And since that night in late-February, Brown has picked up at least a point in 17 of 23 games, including four goals against the Vancouver Canucks as Los Angeles has the opportunity to close out the series Wednesday night. No other King has scored more than once in the series.
Brown scored twice in the Kings' 4-2 Game 2 victory, but it was Game 3 that his impact in the series was felt the most.
After his thunderous hit on Henrik Sedin early in the second period, Brown was left alone in front of Cory Schneider and pounced on a rebound to give the Kings a 1-0 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Los Angeles is on the precipice of sweeping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks, a feat that last occurred when the Detroit Red Wings were swept by the New Jersey Devils in 1995 Stanley Cup Final, and Brown is making the most out of wearing the "C." He leads the Kings in points with five and is tied with Claude Giroux and Danny Briere for the NHL playoff lead in goals with four.
There is absolutely no denying Jonathan Quick's role (1.33 GAA, .965) as the backbone of the Kings. He was their MVP during the regular season and continues to be that in the playoffs.
Brown, however, has been the engine that's driven Los Angeles from teetering on the brink of an early offseason to within a victory of a monumental first-round upset. He said he's a "self-motivated" person, but whether Lombardi's dangling of his captain was legit or a way to light a fire under him, it's clear that Brown has responded in his quest to prove his worth with the Kings and lead by example.
UPS asks, "What can brown do for you?" Against Vancouver, he's done everything for the Kings.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy