Asked to describe his performance during the regular season, Dustin Brown didn't hesitate.
"Disappointing," the Kings' captain said.
Mike Richards, asked the same question, had a similar answer.
"Unsatisfying, maybe," he said.
Yes, and yes again.
Brown and Richards were notable underachievers all season, struggling so mightily at times that they couldn't hold top-six spots. Brown scored 15 goals and a career-low 27 points in 79 games. Richards had 11 goals and 41 points, his lowest production since he had 32 points in 59 games for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2006-07 season. In addition, he was a team-worst minus-6 defensively.
Did Brown, whose effectiveness depends on his physicality, simply wear out? Did Richards, at 5 feet 11 and 196 pounds not the biggest guy in an ever-bigger and faster league, get so battered that he couldn't be effective anymore?
No, and no again.
Neither is near Anze Kopitar's team-leading 20 points, but both have been factors during the Kings' playoff drive, which will continue Saturday with Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks at Staples Center.
Each has two goals and six points, but their value goes beyond that. Brown, restored to the top line with Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, leads the NHL with 87 hits in 16 postseason games, an average of 5.4. Richards, lately centering the fourth line for Dwight King and Trevor Lewis, has won 52.7% of his faceoffs and has shown more jump than he has had in a long time.
The cliche about the playoffs being a new season has a strong ring of truth for Brown and Richards.
"Probably the last five, 10 games of the season I was more or less counting down the days until it was over and seeing those zeroes on the board," Richards said Friday.
"I feel a lot better now. I'm playing more loose, just kind of doing my thing out there instead of worrying too much and overthinking situations."
Richards went 23 games without a goal, from late November through mid-January. The more he fretted the worse things got.
"I just couldn't find any consistency for some reason. You start thinking about it too much and when you're in the minus as a player, you're more focused on trying to stay even and not get scored on than going out there and just play your game and try to get goals," he said.
"That kind of snowballed on me and I got some bad breaks, and you just kind of put yourself in bad positions. The next thing you know, you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders."
That weight has mostly been lifted.
"He's got an elite skill set and when he steps his game up you really notice," King said of Richards. "He's just a little harder in all those areas that are noticeable in the playoffs, and those are big areas for any team. When you've been through as many tournaments and playoffs as he has, he knows what he needs to bring to be effective. And right now he's on the right path for sure."
Brown knows how Richards felt then and now.
Brown was chosen last summer to be part of the U.S. Olympic team's Sochi leadership group, which helped him keep a roster spot when other players put up better numbers. Brown was re-energized by his Sochi experience, a boost that has lasted.
"I think coming out of the Olympic break I probably played my best hockey. For whatever reason, I wasn't very good the first 50, 60 games of the year," he said. "I thought I played more and I actually felt, for the first time, more like myself after the Olympic break, for whatever reason. I think it's continued.
"I know my point total probably isn't ... I don't even know my points right now because that's not what we're concerned about. I feel like I'm playing my game right now, whether it shows up on the score sheet or not."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said he never doubted Richards had more to give. "He's been an extremely good player for us in the playoffs, and at the end of the day, that's how you're measured," Sutter said.
Richards and Brown will have to give still more for the Kings to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
"We can be happy coming back with the split, but at the same time we can't be overly happy with being 1-1," Richards said. "We've got to push forward, take advantage of your home games. We really haven't done that very much in these playoffs. I think it's a good time to start."
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