Where would Kings be without Brown?
Winger once thought to be trade bait
CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
LOS ANGELES - You watch him now, one of the favourites for the Conn Smythe Trophy having such an impact in this Western Conference final, and you wonder how the Los Angeles Kings could have thought about moving Dustin Brown at the trade deadline.
Or, even in passing, discussed switching the captaincy from the 27-year-old American to Mike Richards, the former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers who was acquired over the summer.
Sometimes the best move is the one that doesn't happen.
Brown, one of the biggest reasons the Kings are within two wins of their first trip to the Stanley Cup final since 1993, shrugged off the topic after Los Angeles had taken a 2-0 series lead over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Back around the trade deadline Feb. 27, there were rumours the Kings were discussing a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"That's part of the business, part of being a professional athlete," Brown said. "It's one of those things where it happens and I'm still here and I'm pretty sure a lot of people are happy about that, and I'm definitely happy about it."
The 6-foot-1, 203-pound centre has been at the epicentre of the Kings' rise during the latter part of the season, to dominance during the playoffs.
He has been dynamic with boundless energy and a great scoring touch.
He tied for the team lead in hits with six in Game 2, finishing checks and making them so hard to play against.
Brown knows what it's like to play against a team that is big and fast.
"You look at teams that have won the Cup -- the one team I always think of because I played them so much is Anaheim in '07," Brown said. "They were gigantic. Not only big, but they had the skill and speed to go with it.
"Look at some of our guys," he said, referring to Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. "They are 6-foot-3, but they can probably skate like they're a 5-foot-10 speedy guy. Then there's (Dustin Penner). Once he gets going, he's hard to stop ... we call him 'Bear' for a reason."
Brown recalled a play in which Penner bumped the Coyotes' Shane Doan -- no slouch at 223 pounds -- in the corner, leading to Carter's first of three goals in Game 2.
Brown knows the feeling when the other team is committed to finishing checks. When asked if he thought the Coyotes were getting frustrated with the Kings' relentless game, he put it this way:
"I can't really speak for their side of things," Brown said. "We have everyone working hard, we have everyone doing the little things, we have everyone finishing their checks, and when you're playing a team like that ... we've had games this year where every single little check is getting finished on you, it can wear on you mentally, physically.
"That has been part of our success -- our top-end guys and our role players are all finishing their checks." That, he said, can be frustrating to play against.
Things are getting even tougher for the Coyotes as they won't have their biggest centre, Martin Hanzal, for Game 3. Hanzal was suspended for one game for his hit from behind on Brown in Game 2. It was a dangerous hit -- Hanzal tracked Brown from the top of the circle and shoved him from behind -- and a longer suspension would have been justified. The good news for the Coyotes is that Doan and defenceman Derek Morris will not be facing supplemental discipline for, respectively, a hit from behind and a kneeing penalty in Game 2.
Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith admitted his team is frustrated, but more with themselves than the Kings.
"It has been frustrating so far," Smith said. "It's one thing to lose when you're playing your best. When you're losing games and not playing up to your capabilities, that's why it's frustrating.
"So, we start with one game. We need one win right now. That's all we can control. We can't win four games in one game. We're not looking too far ahead. This series is far from over."
He and Brown agree on that point.
"They've been a pretty resilient group this year and years past," Brown said of the Coyotes. "I don't think a lot of people gave them chances prior to this and they showed they won the Pacific Division for a reason."
Smith and Brown might think this series is far from over. Not many looking at it from the outside would share that opinion.