Twenty minutes after hoisting the Stanley Cup — not once but twice — and taking laps around the Staples Center ice to the roar of the crowd, Dustin Brown needed a break.
While the rest of his team celebrated, the Kings captain skated off to the side and slumped against the boards.
"I'm emotionally spent like I've never been before," he said. "Just an accumulation of everything."
This season has been the best of times and the worst of times for the 29-year-old forward.
The Kings battled through 26 playoff games, won seven elimination games and three Game 7s on the road — all records for an NHL champion — to capture their second title in three seasons.
Along the way, Brown became the first American-born captain to win multiple Cups, finishing with a burst of four goals and four assists in the final nine games. That included a double-overtime winner in Game 2 of the Cup Final against the New York Rangers.
It wasn't easy. Not after the worst regular season of his career.
"He was not going to give up," said Luc Robitaille, the former Kings star who is now president of business operations. "He was going to keep going and going."
The struggle began in training camp when Brown suffered a hamstring injury that kept him from preparing in normal fashion. There were distractions off the ice, too, as his wife gave birth to their fourth child — a daughter named Mackenzie.
It all added up to a slow start, Brown recording only 10 goals and six assists through the first 58 games. He described the stretch in one word: "Disappointing."
People watched his sluggish play and wondered if his career was over. Just two years removed from a starring role in the 2012 Cup run, he looked worn down.
Then came the Winter Olympics in Sochi. U.S. officials included Brown on their roster, but that might have been only because he had served as part of the team's leadership group the previous summer.
Regardless, the Russia "vacation" did him good.
"It just gave me a two-week break," he said. "To get away from the season I was having here."
His scoring slump ended with a goal in the opener against Slovakia. Brown added another in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic and, though the Americans finished out of the medals, he came home rejuvenated.
Though his 27 points for the regular season were a career low, his teammates could see the difference.
"It's the way he battles every game," forward Tanner Pearson said. "He may not be putting the points up, but the way he puts his heart on the line and does what he needs to do is incredible."
As the postseason began, the man with the "C" on his sweater turned it up a notch.
His two goals and two assists helped the Kings scramble back from a three-games-to-none deficit against the San Jose Sharks. Two assists contributed to a victory over the Ducks in the second round.
"He led by example, which is what he does best," forward Trevor Lewis said. "He's such a big part of our identity."
That identity begins with a physical brand of hockey and, over the last few seasons, no one on the Kings has played tougher than Brown.
As the winger on a line with scorers Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, he is accustomed to doing the dirty work. This postseason, he accumulated a league-best 125 hits — 30 more than the next closest player.
The big surprise? Glimpses of unexpected speed and agility when the Kings advanced to the Final.
For the double-overtime winner in Game 2, he slipped past Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the slot and tipped in Jake Muzzin's blast from the point.
"My guy in front," McDonagh said. "It's a tough one."
A few nights later, in the Kings' Game 4 loss, Brown intercepted a pass in their defensive zone and streaked down the ice, showing some fancy stickwork to fool goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the breakaway score.
Teammates and the media began to describe him with a word — resilient — that also fit the Kings' gutsy victories in elimination games. The captain had become emblematic of his team.
Brown deflected the praise, saying, "I mean, if you look at it over the course of these playoffs, we found big games from different players each night."
His performance Friday was suitably workmanlike, with six hits and a pair of dangerous shots in 25 minutes on the ice. Afterward, he savored the victory by grabbing the Cup for a second turn around the ice.
"It's definitely not because I had more energy," he quipped.
The veteran wanted to put an exclamation point on what he called his "most challenging and rewarding season . . . all in one."
The toll was evident as he took a break from the celebration, skating off to the side. Slumping a little. Wanting to rest.
It turned out there was still a bit of work to be done.
One of his young sons approached with a request. Brown smiled and reached down, lifting the boy onto his shoulders.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times