Kings: Dustin Brown silences the critics, one play at a time

Dustin Brown has stepped up in his role as Kings' captain in this series vs. Vancouver. Kirby Lee/US Presswire

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- He can’t skate. He doesn’t belong on the top line. He shouldn’t be captain. Just trade him, already.

Life in the NHL hasn't come easy for Dustin Brown.

As the longest-tenured member of the Kings, he had to endure five losing seasons before experiencing his first playoff game.

Two years and 15 postseason appearances later, Brown is on the brink of winning his first playoff series in the NHL, taking a three-games-to-none lead into Game 4 on Wednesday against the top-seeded Canucks at Staples Center.

Brown has been the most valuable offensive player in the series, totaling four goals and an assist. Two of his goals were short-handers and another held up as the game winner Sunday in Game 3 at Staples Center, the same night he delivered a momentum-changing hit on Vancouver’s best player, Henrik Sedin.

Not surprisingly, his local critics have faded away.

“Hockey’s a funny game,” Brown said.

He wasn’t laughing the first half of the season.

He had four goals in the first 24 games, well off his 27-goal average from his previous four seasons. As the offense sputtered and the team failed to meet expectations, the Kings fired coach Terry Murray in mid-December and replaced him with Darryl Sutter.

Brown took the move harder than most, as he spent hours of one-on-one time with Murray as part of his captaincy duties. He responded to Sutter, however, scoring six goals in his first 15 games behind the bench.

Another lull followed, however, and this goal-less streak extended for 11 games. It was during this stretch leading up to the trade deadline that Brown became the object of trade rumors. He played through the distractions, however, and broke out of his slump two days before the deadline with a three-goal, four-point performance in a 4-0 victory against the visiting Blackhawks.

He went on to score points in 10 consecutive games, a career high.

“When your name is out there, you definitely want to prove people wrong,” Brown said of the trade rumors. “At the same time, I knew I could do better than I was in the first half of the year.”

Shortly after arriving in L.A., Sutter said he stressed to Brown to stick with his strength, a physical style of play that has placed him among the league leaders in hits the past five seasons. Win battles along the boards and in front of the net, and score the type of goals that won’t make the highlight reels.

Too often, Brown would stray from that style and try to be too much of a playmaker.

“He has an identity, and when he plays to that identity, he’s a really good player,” Sutter said.

Brown is a right-handed shot but has been playing left wing most of the season because of injuries. It's just one of many adjustments the 27-year-old Ithaca, N.Y., native has had to make, right down to loosening his skate strings.

“My balance seems to be a little better,” he said. “Maybe it’s helping my skating, I don’t know, but I feel stronger on my skates the second half of the year.”

He scored an empty-net goal to seal Game 1 against the Canucks, a 4-2 victory in Vancouver, then scored the first two goals in Game 2, both short-handers, which made the difference in another 4-2 victory up north.

After he laid out Sedin early in the second period of Game 3 to stem a wave of scoring chances and instead send the frustrated Canucks parading to the penalty box, Brown pounced on a third-period rebound and scored the biggest goal of his career in the 1-0 victory.

"We need him to keep going like that," teammate Anze Kopitar said of Brown's physical play. "That’s what he has to do on a daily basis to be a force out there."

The type of force that could lead the Kings to their first playoff series victory in 11 seasons.