NEWARK, N.J. — Kings captain Dustin Brown has had a huge impact on the team’s march to the Stanley Cup Final, making his mark by scoring clutch goals and delivering game-changing hits that left opponents nursing bruises and calling for his banishment.
He was so powerful a force that his inability to rattle the New Jersey Devils during the Final has been a surprise, a key instrument missing from the Kings’ usual ensemble performance.
At this stage he undoubtedly is hurt or sore, though no player will admit to the slightest ache until the season ends. And the Devils’ forechecking has, excuse the pun, bedeviled him. “This is the best team that we’ve played,” he said Friday.
True enough. But Brown, who has led the Kings this far by gutsy example, will get a second chance Saturday at the Prudential Center to lead them around the ice with the Cup. For that to happen he must be more of a presence than he was in the first four games.
The Kings missed a chance to win the Cup at home Wednesday, a game they agreed they didn’t deserve to win because the desperate Devils outhustled them and outworked them. Brown doesn’t want to squander another chance to make his mark and skate that happiest of victory laps.
“I think all playoffs we’ve had different players step up at key points. It’s been myself in a few games and I think I’ve been pretty quiet in the Final so far and it’s up to our big players to step up big time,” he said after the team practiced at the AmeriHealth Pavilion at the Prudential Center.
“So it’s an opportunity for guys to have a huge impact on the game. And you see when a guy does have an impact how it can really turn the game around. Again, you prepare to play the game the right way and when an opportunity presents itself you take advantage.”
He has done that repeatedly this spring.
Brown signaled his intentions in the first round with a goal in the opener against Vancouver, two short-handed goals in Game 2 to tie a club record and a crushing hit on Henrik Sedin in Game 3 that the Swedish center later said was clean. Brown also scored the only goal in Game 3 and had four goals and five points in the five-game series.
He followed that in the second round with a big hit on St. Louis forward Andy McDonald in the opener. In Game 3 he leveled defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and sent Blues captain David Backes head-first into the St. Louis bench. Brown’s two goals and six points in that sweep were crucial in making quick work of what was expected to be a long series and made him public enemy No. 1 in St. Louis.
He didn’t stop there. Brown’s full-body hit on Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival in Game 5 of the Western Conference final outraged the Coyotes, who were distracted on the ensuing faceoff that led to Dustin Penner’s series-clinching goal. Brown’s hit on Rozsival was borderline, but the effect was inarguable: The Coyotes were livid on the handshake line, but the Kings were the West champions.
In the Final he has recorded one assist, in Game 3, and was credited with five giveaways during Game 4. Again, the Devils are tighter defensively and more varied offensively than the Kings’ previous opponents. And don’t forget, the Kings are deep into a journey that has seemed relatively easy but has taken a toll on players such as Brown, who must bang and crash to be effective.
“We’ve been going at this for I don’t know how many weeks now,” he said.
More than eight. So he can’t be as fresh as he was against Vancouver.
“It’s a different team, I think, in general,” he said. “I think New Jersey does a lot better job of taking ice away….For me personally, on my left side, they’re taking a lot of the ice away, which makes it more difficult to enter the zone. But from a physicality standpoint I’m just as physical. I just don’t have that much time or ice with the puck.”
Then it’s up to him to create that time and space.
“It’s been a long playoffs, and emotionally and physically you’re going to be tired,” he said. “So it’s really about finding the next gear, and the team that does normally wins.”
It might take only one game-changing hit or momentum-swinging play by Brown to get them there.