Call of Duty is Dustin Brown’s video game of choice and also an apt description of his mindset. The thinking is that Brown, the Los Angeles Kings’ captain, is answering the call of duty, even while playing hurt during the Stanley Cup final against the New Jersey Devils. Brown has just a single point in the series and coach Darryl Sutter played him just under 19 minutes in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, his lowest total since early in the St. Louis Blues series. Brown didn’t play the final 3:56 of the game, but would only say of a possible injury that he doesn’t feel any worse than usual as his team tries - for the third game in a row - to win the first Stanley Cup in the club’s 45-year history.
Some coaches change lines from period to period and shift to shift if things aren’t clicking, but Sutter generally does not subscribe to that philosophy. On the contrary, Sutter rarely tinkers with his line combinations, even when things aren’t going well, so when he replaced Brown with Simon Gagne in the latter stages of the last game, it marked a significant shift in thinking.
"At that point you got to try to find something that's clicking," said Brown Sunday. "We weren't clicking, or whatever you want to call it."
On the plus side, Brown did provide the screen on linemate Justin Williams’s goal, the only goal produced by the Kings in the game. Los Angeles has been limited to two goals in the past two games, 10 overall in the series, two of them in overtime - and a regular-season issue, scoring goals, is the biggest reason they haven’t won the championship already.
No time like the present to step up.
According to Brown, one of the biggest issues facing the Kings is that they haven’t been able to establish their forecheck properly against a Devils team that gets good puck movement from goaltender Martin Brodeur. Faced with a similar challenge last round against Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes, the Kings didn’t have nearly the same issues as they’re having now. Who would have thought? A legend and a future Hall of Famer, stepping it up at such an important time of year?
"Marty is playing a pretty good series," acknowledged Brown. "He made some pretty big saves, especially in Games 4 and 5 for them. I think it's sticking with our system, making it harder on Marty. Our goal (Saturday) night was guys getting to the net. I don't think he really had a chance to see the shot."
Brown’s centre Anze Kopitar was not about to push the panic button, knowing the Kings still have two more chances to win the Stanley Cup, after racing out to a 3-0 series lead. If they win either game, then this will represent just a hiccup on a long and unexpected playoff journey, which stands 15-4 overall. The fact that they lost as many games in 72 hours as they did in the previous seven weeks would just become a minor, easy-to-forget statistic.
"Yeah, I mean, we're still in obviously a really good spot," said Kopitar. "If somebody would have told us that we were going to go up 3-2 going home to have the chance to close it out, I think everybody would sign that paper. It's just a matter of going out there and getting it done."
Defenceman Drew Doughty thought that the biggest difference is that the breaks in the series are starting to even now - L.A. got them early, New Jersey later.
"I think we're fine," said Doughty. "We've lost a few in a row, but we could have easily won those two games, too. The Cup is going to be in the building again (tonight). I think that's enough motivation. At this point of the year, you don't feel the bumps and bruises, you don't get tired. You have so much adrenalin running through your body, you want it so bad that you just put it all aside."
Like Brown, centre Mike Richards hasn’t found the scoring range on a regular basis in the final, but says he isn’t worried.
"It's the Stanley Cup Final," he said. "If it was easy, everybody would have the Cup. It's not easy. It's one of the toughest things you're going to have to go through. At the same time, if you work for it, it's going to be rewarding."