It was late February and things were looking desperate for the Kings.
Scrambling to stay in the playoff hunt, ranked dead last in scoring in the NHL, they traded for a struggling, injured forward named Jeff Carter.
“They showed a lot of faith in me,” Carter said.
A troubled man for a troubled team. And a deal that kick-started a championship run.
“When we got him, we got some offense,” defenseman Matt Greene said. “We knew that we could do some damage.”
Not only did Carter add punch to the Kings’ offense through the playoffs, he provided a finishing touch with two goals in Monday night’s 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils to clinch the Stanley Cup.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “Didn’t expect it to work out like this.”
The story of Carter’s redemption begins in Philadelphia, where he earned a reputation — and an 11-year, $58-million contract — as a scorer. But there were questions about his commitment and the Flyers sent him to the Columbus Blue Jackets before this season.
Pestered by injuries and clearly unhappy, the 27-year-old lost his offensive touch. The Kings decided to take a chance on him, giving up defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round draft pick. In return, they hoped the 6-foot-4, 199-pound Carter could take some pressure off Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. His insertion into the second line also meant that someone else could be shifted down, bolstering the third line.
As an added bonus, Carter was reunited with Mike Richards, a former teammate in Philadelphia. “I told Mike this team could win,” he recalled. “I believed that.”
Not that everything went smoothly. An ankle injury caused the newcomer to miss games just before the playoffs.
But the Kings began to turn things around offensively after Carter’s arrival and, as the playoffs began, he shifted into a higher gear. It started with two assists against Vancouver in the first-round opener. Then came a goal against St. Louis and a hat trick in Game 2 at Phoenix.
If anything, Carter picked up the pace against New Jersey with the overtime winner in Game 2 and another goal in Game 3.
On Monday night, he scored the second goal of the game by deflecting a Brown shot past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur during a critical power play in the first period.
Later, he took a pass from Brown in the slot and beat Brodeur to the stick side to make the score 4-0 and end any hopes of a New Jersey comeback.
Clinching the championship erased two bad memories, starting with a 2010 loss in the Final when Carter and Richards played for Philadelphia.
“You’ll do anything you can not to have that feeling again,” Richards said.
Hoisting the Cup also helped Carter silence doubts that had shadowed his career over the last year or so.
“A lot of people doubted me,” he said. “I proved ’em wrong.”