NEWARK, N.J. -- A whirlwind 12 months filled mostly with aggravation was worth this moment.
And certainly an even bigger one that is two wins away.
Make no mistake, the trade Jeff Carter never wanted out of Philadelphia a year ago in June, the feeling of betrayal after the Flyers said they wouldn't move him and the fit that never was in Columbus, those are distant memories after his overtime goal Saturday night lifted his Los Angeles Kings to a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils and a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup finals.
"It's a pretty special moment," Carter said. "Anytime you get a chance to play in the finals, it's exciting. To score an overtime goal in Game 2 to put your team up 2-0, it's pretty special."
And it was a gorgeous goal, Carter's sizzling wrist shot from the high slot beating Martin Brodeur stick side 13:42 into the first overtime, linemate Dustin Penner blinding the legendary netminder with a perfect screen.
"Our D-men were open, too, but you could tell he wanted to shoot that," teammate Jarret Stoll said, smiling. "And he's got that great shot. It was a beauty shot, low blocker, and found a hole."
Beauty indeed, but Carter wasn't looking for artistic merit.
"I was just looking for anything, really," said Carter. "Playoff hockey, you're just looking to put it on the net anytime you can. It's usually a cheesy goal. But Penns did a great job getting in front of Marty there and, to be honest with you, I don't know if he saw the shot."
And for Carter, the kind of goal the Kings were hoping he'd score when they sent a first-round pick and a top-four blue-liner in Jack Johnson to the Blue Jackets in late February. A sniper's goal, when they needed it most.
"It's good to see him score," said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. "He's a goal-scorer. You're counting on him to score a big goal."
Fact is, this hasn't been a big playoff offensively for Carter. It was his first goal since a Game 2 hat trick against Phoenix last round. He has five goals in 16 games.
But whatever criticism you want to level at him, understand that Carter is not believed to be playing at 100 percent. He battled an ankle injury late in the regular season. Whether or not that's still bothering him, he's gutting it out through something.
It's partly why his teammates were so thrilled for him Saturday night.
"I'm pumped for him," said Kings blue-liner Matt Greene. "That's why we got him, he's a goal-scorer. He's a clutch goal-scorer. He comes out there, makes a shot and wins the game for us. It's what he's been doing his whole life and it's what he did for us tonight."
Carter scored big goals in Philadelphia, helping lead the Flyers to the 2010 Cup finals, but they don't compare to what transpired Saturday night.
"This is by far the biggest, for sure," Carter said. "It's my first playoff overtime goal. It's a huge one, a big one for the team. It gets us a 2-0 lead and gets us where we wanted to be coming in here."
Carter, Penner and Mike Richards were the team's most effective line in Game 2. It stands to reason Richards and Carter, both former divisional rivals of the Devils when in Philly, would feel some sort of comfort level playing against the Devils. That shouldn't be overlooked in this series as a small advantage for the Kings.
"Being in Philly, we played against Marty and the Devils a lot, Mike and I," said Carter. "We know a lot of their tendencies. I think they've opened up their game compared to what they usually were. So, there's still some things you have to adjust to, but it definitely helps."
Some would argue the Kings overpaid for Carter and should never have taken on his monster contract.
An overtime winner in the finals helps quiet that talk. Two more wins and a Stanley Cup championship? You won't hear any of that talk ever again.