You suspect the Kings' thank-you notes to the Columbus Blue Jackets might be getting too long and too wordy right now.
June 2012: The deep gratitude for the Jeff Carter trade. April 2014: Appreciation for sending Marian Gaborik out West to the Kings. May 2014? Ode to Carter, again.
The proven goal scorer is doing just that, along with facilitating and mentoring his young linemates, and has brought the Kings within two games of reaching the Stanley Cup Final again. Carter had a hand in all but one of the Kings' goals, scoring once and adding two assists in their 4-3 victory over Chicago in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday night at Staples Center
His scoring explosion — seven points in the last two games — has brought linemates Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli along for the ride. They are both on four-game, point-scoring streaks, the best run of their young NHL lives. Toffoli put the Kings ahead for good with his second-period goal, not long after the hard-working Pearson had set up Carter in the slot to make it 2-2.
"They're working and they're having fun," Carter said. "They use their speed and their skill to create opportunities, and they're kind of dragging me along with them."
The Kings lead this best-of-seven series, two games to one, and Game 4 is Monday night in Los Angeles. It is their first lead against the Blackhawks in the playoffs in this postseason and last year's playoff series combined. The Blackhawks came out strong with first-period leads of 1-0 and 2-1, both of their goals scored by captain Jonathan Toews.
"It's a 2-1 series against the defending Stanley Cup champs," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "So I don't think there's such a thing as taking control. Both teams have shown they're able to battle adversity. But we did what we wanted to do tonight. We got the lead in the series, now it's about resetting and reloading."
They were able to make those key in-game adjustments after an up-and-down first period, which opened with them giving up a short-handed goal to Toews (who scored on a breakaway at 5:26). The Kings responded 50 seconds later with a power-play goal by defenseman Slava Voynov.
"We were just slow in our zone," said Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin, who assisted on Drew Doughty's third-period goal, which made it 4-2. "We gave them opportunities with the turnovers and being sloppy in our zone. We knew we had to get quicker and get the puck out of our zone and we did that."
The Elias Sport Bureau said that Carter is the first Kings player to score three or more points in consecutive playoff games since Wayne Gretzky did it in the Kings' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993.
"It's not a one-line deal," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. "Kopi's [Anze Kopitar] line didn't score a goal [in this round] — so got to spread it around."
The chemistry between Pearson and Toffoli, a byproduct of their time in the minors in Manchester, N.H., is obvious from a quick glance. Putting Carter, probably the Kings' most versatile forward, into that mix seems like a master stroke now.
"They're rollin', eh?" Muzzin said. "It's clicking right now. They've got a bunch of speed and a bunch of skill and they're working hard. They've got some chemistry going. Tic-tac-toe plays and little plays around the net. They kind of know where each other are, so they were huge for us tonight."
Said Carter: "You don't have to do much to get them to relax. They're pretty easy-going guys. Tyler was a big part of our team last year in the playoffs, especially when Mike [Richards] went out. He really stepped up. Tanner was around all playoffs, so he's kind of been through it and seen it.