LOS ANGELES -- If the pass from Dustin Brown to Anze Kopitar for his picture-perfect goal in the second period seemed effortless, almost second nature, it's because it probably was for these two longtime teammates.
No two players on the Los Angeles Kings have played together longer than Brown and Kopitar. They have both had a front-row seat for the Kings' rebuilding process over the past six seasons (eight for Brown, the captain and most tenured King).
They both experienced the back end of seven consecutive years without a playoff berth in Los Angeles and sat in their locker room at Staples Center the past two seasons after being eliminated at home in the first round of the playoffs.
And if the pass from Mike Richards to Jeff Carter for his back-breaking goal in the third period seemed natural, as if it had been practiced countless times before, it's because it has by these two old friends.
No two players on the Kings are as close as Richards and Carter. They have been teammates for the past eight years, starting when they were with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL in 2004, then when they played for the Philadelphia Flyers for the next six years before being traded separately last summer, with Richards being shipped off to Los Angeles and Carter to Columbus. They would be apart for only eight months before Carter was traded to Los Angeles in February to be reunited with Richards and give the Kings a much-needed scoring threat.
They both experienced the heartbreak of losing the Stanley Cup final two years ago on their home ice when they were with the Flyers, and both experienced the humiliation of being tagged as problems rather than leaders last summer when they were sent out of town in opposite directions within hours of each other.
There are plenty of players to credit for the Kings being one win away from winning their first Stanley Cup, especially with 17 different players on the Kings scoring this postseason. But there is no question the seeds for the Kings' current run and 15-2 record were planted years ago on opposite coasts and on opposite teams with four players that likely didn't think they would be headlining the top two lines in hockey right now.
"I didn't really see Kopi beyond the guy; I just kind of knew he was coming," Brown said of his pass to Kopitar in the second period that gave the Kings a 2-0 lead. "I just put it there. It was an all right pass, but the shot was better. An offside one-timer is not the easiest thing, and he put it right up under the bar."
Said Kopitar: "Yeah, we have been playing together for about five years. I think, as of right now, we have our chemistry going. It's extremely important to have guys clicking and knowing where you're going to be on the ice, just reading off each other."
It was Kopitar who jumped on top of Brown and tackled him after Brown scored the empty-net goal a month ago that pushed the Kings past the St. Louis Blues and halfway to the Stanley Cup. After Kopitar seamlessly finished off Brown's pass Monday night, it was Brown who leaped into Kopitar's arms.
"It's been a long road," Brown said. "We've added pieces along the way and we've got that core group. I've been a King my whole career, and Kopi as well. It's a special time."
Sitting in the Kings' dressing room afterward discussing the game, Brown said he was actually more impressed by the goal Richards and Carter connected on in the third period that gave the Kings a 3-0 lead and put the game out of reach.
"The chemistry those two have together," Brown said, shaking his head. "You saw it tonight with that goal. You couldn't really see it from the bench; it looked like a big cluster of guys, and Mike and Jeff found a way to make it happen."
Brown has been a part of the Kings' rebuilding process since 2003 when he was drafted by the Kings with the 13th pick in the draft. He has seen players come and go, trades and draft picks work and flame out. But when the Kings traded for Richards in the offseason and then acquired Carter at the trade deadline, he knew the pieces were finally in place for a championship run.
"The first piece was Mike, when we got that legit 1-2 center combo," Brown said. "You look at teams that win Stanley Cups and teams that are successful in this league, the heart of the team is the center, one, and two … we got that in Mike. The second part was getting Cartsy. It kind of evened out the threat. They can't just center in on Kopi's line anymore."
The reason they can no longer center on Kopitar and Brown's line is because Richards and Carter's line is right there to make you pay, and that was certainly the case Monday night.
"Obviously, we've played a long time together, myself and Mike," Carter said. "When you play for such a long time together, you just read off each other. You know where each other are going to be. I think the perfect example is the goal we played tonight on the power play. I know where to go for him. He knows where I'm going. It makes it easy for us. It's always nice to have a familiar face who you've played with for a while."
Carter and Richards kept in touch regularly after the two were traded in June and were on the phone during the trade deadline in February, when they were reunited. Carter is currently staying at Richards' Manhattan Beach pad until the offseason, when he'll presumably get a place of his own nearby.
The two still talk about the heartbreak they felt two years ago, standing on the ice in Philadelphia and watching the Chicago Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup in front of them as they hopelessly looked on.
"It always sticks in the back of your mind," Carter said. "It's not something that you want to deal with."
Richards agreed, saying, "That's the worst I've felt on the ice in my hockey career. It's not a pleasant sight, and if you can't get motivated by something like that, you probably don't want to be on our team."
Carter and Richards, along with Kopitar, Brown and the rest of the Kings, are now one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup themselves and giving long-suffering Kings fans in Los Angeles their first championship. It's a dream most players on the team have been reluctant to talk about, but it's one that Brown knows fans have had longer than he has been alive.
"I don't know what 45 years of pent-up energy sounds like," Brown said. "But if we play our game [Wednesday], maybe we'll find out."