Until Tuesday night, Jeff Carter's most important contributions as a Los Angeles King involved his presence creating difficult match-ups for the opposition, thus opening up space for teammates on other lines. While he wasn't playing poorly, he wasn't exactly giving off the impression of the player who scored 115 goals over his three previous regular seasons.
That all came to an abrupt halt in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, as Carter recorded a natural hat trick and displayed outstanding efforts in all three zones of the ice while leading the team to a 4-0 shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes. In recording the club's first postseason hat trick since Wayne Gretzky's unforgettable performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals, his efforts lifted the Kings to their third consecutive 2-0 series lead in advance of heading back to Staples Center for Game 3.
"I was happy with my game tonight," Carter said. "We played all situations and I thought we did a fairly good job of limiting their chances. They had a few at the end there, but I thought our line and our penalty killing units and whatnot did a good job."
Carter's three goals were also good for his postseason confidence. Entering Tuesday's action, he had averaged .73 points per game over 516 regular season games and only .44 points per game over 57 playoff contests. His postseason points per game modestly jumped to an average of .48 after the Game 2 win, but more importantly he was able to demonstrate that he's a big game player who can be expected to contribute in awfully big games.
"Obviously I'd love to be scoring every game," Carter said. "They haven't come that easily for me the last little while here. It's something that I've been working on in practice, trying to get to the net during the game, get a couple greasy ones. I was lucky enough tonight."
Carter's effectiveness wasn't limited to his goal scoring. He saw ample special teams time Tuesday, helping a Los Angeles team that hasn't allowed a power play goal since the first round to their 26th consecutive penalty kill. Effective on the forecheck and quick on the backcheck frequently serving as the first forward back into the defensive zone his 200 foot play slowed Phoenix down in the neutral zone and contributed heavily towards another spotless defensive effort.
"Top players" is a key tenet of Sutter's Law, Darryl Sutter's pithy five-point blueprint towards winning playoff games. Goaltenders, special teams, unsung heroes and discipline also occupy the list.
While he's not especially inclined to single out individual performances, instead relying on lines as a whole or the team-wide effort, Sutter spoke on the effectiveness of his 27 year old sniper.
"He's certainly getting good opportunities, so it's good to see him cash in. He had a couple the other night, really good ones, and then tonight early, he had one, too, where he was cutting in on
the power play."
"You know it's coming. Guys like that, it's percentages, right?"
Though it took most of the season to finally realize it, this is an awfully multi-dimensional Kings team right now. Considering what the Brown-Kopitar-Williams line has meant to this team in the postseason, and the unsung performances they've received from players like Dwight King and Jordan Nolan the latter of whom recorded another six hits in just over nine and a half minutes of ice time Los Angeles is clearly playing the most elevated hockey of the remaining playoff teams.
There are also several similarities between this current Kings situation and the run experienced by Carter, Richards and the Flyers two years ago though Los Angeles is hoping for a much different final result than the Philadelphia team that lost in six games to Chicago.
"Oh, it's real similar," Carter said. "Same thing when we were in Philly there. Basically had to battle right down to the last game. Shootout there to make it."
"I think, like I said, when you're in that kind of position, just kind of rolls over into the playoffs. Whereas, if we were locked in there a little while in the season, you might sit back a bit, get a little complacent."
Complacent' doesn't seem to be a word in the vocabulary of a team that tied NHL records by winning its seventh consecutive road playoff game and ninth consecutive road game spread over two postseasons. The 2010 Blackhawks and 1982 and 1983 Islanders, respectively, were the last teams to accomplish such feats.
"I mean, obviously that's what we came here to do, was to win two games," Carter said. "I thought we did a fairly good job both games. I still think we have some room for improvement, which is obviously a good thing being up 2-0."
"We were a confident group coming in. We had to battle hard the last month of the season just to get in, pretty much playing playoff hockey all the way through there. I think that's helped us carry over playing into the playoffs. We just kept rolling."