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King of Kings

Brown's the guy who makes team tick

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We'll never know how serious the Los Angeles Kings were about a seismic trade of their captain Dustin Brown -- his name was certainly out there on all the talk shows and in the Twitterverse -- but it's the age-old story. The best trades are often the ones you don't make.

As good as goalie Jonathan Quick has been as the Kings dispatched the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks and second-seeded St. Louis Blues in just nine playoff games, from the instant Brown levelled Canucks captain Henrik Sedin he's been their lightning rod. He's got 11 points in nine games, six goals (two of them short-handed), he's plus-9 and he's got 20 penalty minutes, tops among any player in the top 30 in playoff scoring.

Now that Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia Flyers are done, Brown, Quick, Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Washington Capitals rookie goalie Braden Holtby and the New Jersey Devils' tag team of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are the leading Conn Smythe MVP candidates.

Brown left Sedin black and blue, he continued his hitting in the Blues series, and he's figured in four Kings short-handed goals in the playoffs as they get ready for the Western Conference final against the Coyotes on Sunday in the desert.

The hit on Sedin was the hit of the playoffs -- Brown absolutely crushed the Canucks centre a few feet from the boards, with Sedin crumpling to his knees and struggling to get to the bench. It was like a cement mixer running over a Smart Car. To his credit, Sedin didn't bellyache that it was a dirty play.

"You make a big hit like that and everyone's up in the arms with the environment today, with people looking at head shots and how they want to get them out of the game," said Brown. "At first glance you get thrown in with a bunch of other (on-the-line or over-the-line) hits. My gut feeling when I made it was it was a good, clean hockey check. When he came out and said it was clean, too, it solidified what I first thought."

Brown has been atop the NHL's hit parade for years, which is always a balancing act. Hitting is labour intensive -- it's like a violent car wreck with damage on both sides -- and often the more you hit, the less you've got left when the puck's on your stick. But Brown has tried to modify his behaviour somewhat and not take runs at players for run's sake. If the hit's there, the hit's there.

"When I first came into the league, I'd be willing to do whatever it took to make an impression and lot of that was being physical," he said. "But I think my game has changed. I don't think you'll see me running too far out of position to make a hit now. I still get my hits, probably not as many as before, but I'm in better position offensively."

And offensively, he's shone. Only Giroux and Briere have more goals (eight).

His coach, Darryl Sutter, sees some of Jarome Iginla in his Kings captain.

"Guys have talked about Brownie and Jarome a lot, but the big difference for me is when I first got to Calgary, Jarome was already in the hunt for the Hart Trophy, and a scoring race and a Rocket Richard (Trophy, most goals). He was being mentioned for all these major awards. He was a 50-goal scorer," said the former Flames coach and GM. "But in terms of personality and character and what they bring, there's real similarities."

Brown has used Iginla as a role model.

"He's been a top player in this league for quite a few years... you look at the goal scoring, but he also brings the mean streak and the physical edge," said Brown. "I don't score to the extent he can, but I've always watched how he played the game. He led by example on the ice and that's the best way to do it."

Brown's style of game doesn't change from game to game. He's aggressive.

"When he gets away from that he's not very effective," said Sutter. "Game 3 against St. Louis in the last series he didn't have a shot, but he was still finishing checks. He remembers the basics of his game and what's brought him success. He's excited, too. He hasn't played very many playoff games until now (only 12 in the first seven years in L.A.). He's thriving on it, now."

When his name came up just before the trade deadline and with the Kings in a major offensive funk, the rumours went into overdrive.

"There was a lot of talk about me being moved," Brown said. "People were asking me, but I didn't have much to tell them. From that standpoint, it got a little stressful, and hectic, but once the trade deadline passed the team settled in. Bringing in Jeff Carter (from Columbus) was a big message sent by the management that they believed in this team (by adding a big part)."

Not subtracting Brown was the same message. They believed in him, too.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2012 A8

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