Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Carter vows to win more Stanley Cups for the Kings

By Larry Wigge

For Jeff Carter, there was kind of a whole new culture after he won the Stanley Cup. He had won the Cup ... and he wanted more.

"Exactly," the London, Ontario, native, said of the ultimate goal. "We wanted to prove to everyone that our being champions was no fluke."

Going from the No. 8 seed and having to win on the final weekend made it that much more special. The Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils were all a part of the Kings 16-4 record in the playoffs.

"When you win one, you want to win another and another," Carter said. "We have that feel in the room, you want to do it all over again ..."

Carter had a lot on his mind on March 28, when the Kings defeated the St. Louis Blues 4-2 to make their job a little bit easier this time around. The memories were still there from last year's run. The grueling battles. 

"It takes a lot of hard work during the season," Carter continued. "It's not easy. Every night, you see guys playing through a injuries and bumps and bruises. The toll it takes on your body -- it's pretty amazing to see our guys coming through at the right time. The confidence in our room was unbelievable. 

"It's something I'll never forget."

The big forward -- 6-4, 199 pounds -- was traded to the Kings February 23. Kings GM Dean Lombardi obtained Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Jack Johnson and a 2013 first-round pick.

"Even though Dean made the trade for Carter, we didn't really have the full Jeff until the playoffs," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, knowing that Carter was slowly but surely overcoming an injury."

But in the playoffs, Carter was at his best. He had been on the losing end at Philadelphia -- who lost the finals in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. In the postseason run, Jeff tied for the goal-scoring lead with eight goals and five assists.

What options did former 46-goal scorer Jeff Carter have while he was circling the opponent's net? Was he really going to pass or shoot in overtime for the Los Angeles Kings in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals?

Option No. 1 came when he was behind the net -- he could pass on either side. Option No. 2 came in the corner near the goal line, where he could have gambled on shooting the puck from a from weird angle and hope for a deflection or a rebound. Option No. 3 came as he was coming out in the faceoff circle, he could have fired across at an angle and maybe a screen would prevail.

Time was not a concern. The game was on the line. Drama and trepidation was  with Carter on each stride. That leads us to the third option, putting the game in Carter's hands .. a position most goal-scorers would like.

"I was just looking for anything, really," Carter explained. "Playoff hockey, you're just looking to put it on the net anytime you can. It's usually a cheesy goal. But Dustin Penner did a great job getting in front of Marty Brodeur out there and, to be honest with you, I don't know if he saw the shot."

Carter took a rising wrist shot across his body from the high slot, which made the goal difficult for Brodeur to handle -- and it didn't hurt to have teammate Dustin Penner creating a screen in front of the goalie.

Said Carter, "I think it is, by far, the biggest goal I've scored."

This season, Carter led the Kings with 26 goals and added seven assists in 48 games. In the playoffs, he has six goals and five assists in 16 games. His two assists were vital for Los Angeles in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against Chicago of a 3-1 victory.

Sutter said Carter was a new man this year -- he had lost 10-12 pounds.

"He has clearly had a purpose," Sutter said. "He has become a leader. It's good to see a player become a role model."

Lombardi also had seen the new Carter.

"He's like a gunslinger -- a potential goal scorer every time he's on the ice," the GM said. "That was the one element we thought we were lacking last year.

"I've known Jeff since he was 17. He kind of always just played ..."

At this point, Lombardi, who had scouted Jeff when he was on the staff of the Flyers that picked Carter in the first round of the 2003 draft, recalled the weight loss wasn't the only thing that was different in Carter.

"When he came back and trained," Lombardi continued. "I've never seen him work so hard. It was like a total about face. 

"He's really grown up. I think we starting to see some leadership. I remember watching his training. Watching him run. I've never seen such a commitment from Jeff. 

"We were getting more that we bargained for."

Nothing hurt Carter more than coming so close and still losing and to watch Patrick Kane and Blackhawks on Philadelphia's home ice in Game 6 of the 2010 Cup finals.

"You work so hard to get there and then you come up short, it's tough to swallow," Carter said, still wincing over the Blackhawks victory. "It definitely is motivation for anyone. That's something that sticks out in the back of your mind. It's not something you want to deal with ..."

Still clearing his head over his last comments, Carter continued, "It's probably one of the worst nights I've felt in hockey. If you can't get motivated by that.

"But a lot of guys don't get a second chance. A few guys in the room are getting that second chance and we're going to do everything in our power to come out on top this time."

Carter still had other feelings lingering on his mind about his performance in Columbus and L.A.

"A lot people are doubting me out there," he said. "I know that. I look at this as winning the Stanley Cup ... and proving them all wrong." 

Mike Richards pays the cleaning lady and walks Arnold, an ice cream-eating black lab. Jeff Carter’s job is to supply dinner most nights at the beautiful Manhattan Beach house they've shared ever since their hockey careers improbably reconnected in late February, just a few months after the Flyers split them apart.

Jeff Carter, still thinking about scoring goals like the one he scored in Game 2, said, "It's funny how things work out."

This year, he draws a different picture.

"I think I've adjusted to West Coast well," said Carter, who bought a house on the beach in the summer. "I spent the whole lockout with the guys. Working out and skating. Feeling out the place and getting to it. I love it.

"It's great to wake up and see the ocean every day."

And win another Stanley Cup.

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