By Larry Wigge
Count em. Six feet. Eight feet. Ten feet. It just matters that the shots go in.
No matter what the distance ... it was right in the goal crease area -- right in the red zone, the traffic area directly in front of the opponent's net where the best power forward's make their home. And that it where Jeff Carter does best work.
One he scored on a pass from Dustin Penner, a twister-wrister by Carter. The second one went in off Carter's skate, courtesy of a close-in shot by Anze Kopitar. And the natural hat trick was completed on a rebound goal by Kopitar.
The Los Angeles Kings rode the hat trick by Carter to a 4-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes for a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference finals matchup. It was the first hat trick by a Kings player in nearly 20 years, since Wayne Gretzky scored three goals against Toronto on May 29, 1993 -- en route to the Stanley Cup finals.
"He's been playing hard for this team," said Kopitar. "There's people that are probably criticizing him for not scoring but he's brought to the table a lot more than just goal scoring. He's working hard and he's a big part of this team. He got rewarded with three time and it's really good for him because he's been around the net for quite a lot of time and just hasn't got the bounces. This time they bounced for him."
Carter has been hobbled by an ankle injury of late. No excuses.
"I hope so," Carter said of the long-awaited goal. "Yeah, I mean, obviously I'd love to be scoring every game. 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."
Getting to the net. Getting in that heavy traffic. It takes a lot of work to take a pounding ... sometimes. Such is the life of a power forward.
It was historic for Carter because the three goals were his first in the playoffs since he got the game-winner against St. Louis April 30. In fact, just six of his 21 goals this season were scored since he came to the Kings. He had 15 goals in 39 games with Columbus.
In his last three seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers he had 36, 33 and 46 goals -- pretty heady company.
When he was acquired the the Blue Jackets for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi was asked whether Carter was capable of hitting the 46-goal mark again, Lombardi laughed, saying: "Right now I'd take 20."
More to the point, Carter was able to lock into the top two lines a power forward ... with pizzazz.
You see, the Kings have been mysteriously short on offense since the season began.
"I always felt we were still a top forward away," Lombardi said. "That said, I certainly didn't think we were 30th in the league in scoring."
Lombardi cautioned against assuming that Carter would be panacea for a scoring drought. But, in fact, his presence in the lineup gave a boost to the Kings offense.
"Jeff Carter is not going to come in and be the cavalry," Lombardi said. "It's not easy to go out in the marketplace and find a guy with the potential to score 40 goals who is 27 and a cap number ($5.2 million per season) that's very favorable in terms of me keeping this nucleus together."
Carter arrived with plenty of baggage and a sizable contract. The Flyers signed him to an 11-year, $58-million contract, rewarding his 33-goal, 61-point output from the 2009-10 season when Philadelphia reached the Stanley Cup finals. Carter had a three-season run with the Flyers in which he had at least 60 points. And in the four years before this season, Carter scored 144 goals for the Flyers.
Since the start of the 2007-08 season, only Alex Ovechkin (203), Ilya Kovalchuk (167), Jarome Iginla (160) and Dany Heatley (145) have scored more goals than Carter (144).
Pure goal scorers are hard to find, and this guy is a pure goal scorer. He's a guy who, when it's on his stick, it's going on net.
In the NHL Entry draft of 2003, the Flyers took two of the best players available in that first round -- Carter was taken with Phoenix' pick, 11th overall and Mike Richards was taken in the 24th spot with the Flyers pick. Now, both are with the Kings.
When you are drafted as high as he was, people expect you to be the same player, but it's not the same game here. Only a few players like Sidney Crosby can continue on without a hitch in the pro game. Carter is a pure goal scorer. He just needed some time. He's big, he has a long reach and a good shot and he's using it.
Part of Carter's upbringing was his father's influence.
Jim Carter's claim to fame was being selected between Mike Gartner and Dino Ciccarelli in the 1976 Ontario Hockey League draft. Gartner and Ciccarelli went on to become NHL superstars, combining for more than 1,300 goals and 2,500 points. Jim Carter, a 5-8, 145-pound forward, endured the worst season in Oshawa Generals history, hung up his skates, and went to work at a local copper mill.
"He coached me from the time I could skate until I was 16," said Jeff. "It was awesome.
"He was never one of those dads who just pushes, pushes, pushes. With him, you go play, you go home and you leave the game at the rink. He just wanted me to go out and have fun and it all worked out."
"He'd score 75 or 100 goals in a season," Jim Carter said. "You could tell he was a natural because things came to him fairly easy."
As a coach, Jim Carter said he stressed the fundamentals of the game with an emphasis on skating and positioning.
"If you can't skate," he said, "you can't play."
It's a lot like the 2010 playoffs, when the Flyers made it on the final day -- in a shootout, if fact. Philadelphia went all the way to the Finals before finally being taken out by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Life for Jeff Carter is looking up. He's scoring and the Kings have won 11 straight games on the road -- an NHL playoff record. But ...
"It's pretty crazy," Carter said. "I never thought I'd end up here ... especially this quick after the trade of Mike Richards. Obviously I'm happy with how it turned out. I love the beach, so it's a perfect fit."
Playoff hockey and some free time to go to the beach. What could be nicer.