Kings’ Carter forging a new legacy in LA

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Jeff Carter’s blond, scruffy
playoff beard is just long enough to obscure the chip on the Los Angeles Kings
forward’s shoulder.

But it reveals itself when he talks about his path to Southern California.

“A lot of people were doubting me out there,” Carter told reporters
at the Toyota Center on Sunday. “I know that. This is an opportunity to go
out there, get a Stanley Cup and prove everybody wrong.”

“Everybody” is certainly an exaggeration, although those nonbelievers
were quieted — at least briefly — with Carter’s game-winning goal in Game 2 on
Saturday, an overtime tally that gave the Kings a 2-1 victory and a 2-0 edge in
the Stanley Cup Final. The best-of-7 series resumes in LA at Staples Center on Monday
night.

Carter was dealt by the Philadelphia Flyers — a team that drafted him in the
first round in 2003 — to the Columbus Blue Jackets last June. Exiled could be
more accurate, however, as Carter went from a team he helped to the final in
2010 to a team that has qualified for the playoffs only once in its history.

“It wasn’t an easy situation obviously,” Carter said. “Being in
Philly for six years, all you do there is win, right? That’s really all you
know. They teach you the right way there. Going to Columbus, it was a team that
was struggling. Obviously there were some expectations going into the season.
Things didn’t work out the way everybody had hoped. I’m happy where I’m at
now.”

When he was picked up by the Kings at a deadline deal in February, Carter was
reunited with former Flyers teammate Mike Richards — who was dealt by the
Flyers to the Kings that same day in June.

“Right when he got traded here, we were both excited,” Richards said
of the Carter trade. “Maybe one or two times, we were sitting on a beach
on an off day trying to get some rest (and realized) that this is an amazing
place to play.”

The Southland can be an even more hospitable place if Carter and Richards can
lead this 44-year-old franchise to its first Stanley Cup title. Still, this is
Hollywood and despite the fact a good portion of the population has hopped on
the bandwagon, hockey players, like Carter, typically go unnoticed.

“Once you get on the ice, hockey is hockey,” Carter said. “But
(in Los Angeles), you can kind of get away from it a little bit. It’s been kind
of growing a little more. People are starting to recognize us a little lately.
Still, it’s a little easier to get away.”

No, this certainly isn’t Philly, where the watchful media is eclipsed only by
the rabid fan base that flocks to Broad Street. It was there where Carter and
Richards developed a reputation, rightly or wrongly, as guys who enjoyed the
nightlife. In the aftermath of last summer’s transactions, The Philadelphia
Daily News reported that both Carter and Richards refused to sign a pledge not
to drink for a month, an initiative implemented by head coach Peter Laviolette.

Flyers GM Paul Holmgren denied partying had anything to do with either trade.

Whatever the reason for the trade, Carter, 27, is thriving. Foot, ankle and
shoulder injuries limited Carter to 55 regular-season games and it took a while
for him to find his rhythm upon his arrival to Southern California.

The 6-foot-4 center, however, has been stellar in the playoffs. His first
career playoff overtime goal was his fifth overall this postseason. He had a hat
trick in Game 2 in the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Coyotes
and added two assists in the series-clinching Game 5 win over Phoenix.

“This is where hockey is the most fun,” said Carter, who has five
assists this postseason. “This is what every guy wants to play for. This
is where you want to be.”

If the Kings close out this series, Carter’s chip may remain. The fate of his
beard, however, is certain.

“A couple more wins and we’ll be getting rid of these real quick,”
Carter quipped.