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Carter gives L.A. the shot it needed

The possibility would have been almost impossible to fathom back in February, when Jeff Carter spent many a miserable evening in Columbus playing for a team going nowhere. He had worn out his welcome with the Blue Jackets less than a year after they made him their franchise forward.

Carter never questioned whether he was the fortunate one when he was shipped to the Kings just before the trade deadline and was reunited with his close friend, Mike Richards. Carter and Richards were terrific players but were sent packing on the same day last June amid rumors they played harder off the ice than on.

It was all erased Saturday when Carter wheeled around the Devils' net and waited for the traffic to clear, waited for an opening, waited for one opportunity he never expected when the season began. And he did what made him a terrific player in the first place. He shot the puck precisely where it was needed to beat Martin Brodeur.

The Kings marched home with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Devils in Game Two, giving them a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals and complete command over a New Jersey team that threw everything it had at Los Angeles. Once again, it wasn't enough to beat a Kings team that appears to be destined to win the whole thing.

Carter left the dressing room with an ear-to-ear smile but did not emerge in time for this edition. He didn't need to explain his feelings, anyway, not when his teammates understood just how much the goal meant to the big center. If you think he's happy to be in Los Angeles, the Kings have been more than happy to have him.

"He's a great player and has proven that over the past many years," goaltender Jonathan Quick said after the game. "He's playing his game. That's why we picked him up. We knew what kind of player he was, and that's what he's bringing to the table."

The Kings acquired Carter for one reason: scoring. They had problems finding the net almost all season and unloaded defenseman Jack Johnson for him in a swap that provided more offense for the playoffs. Carter had only four goals in 15 postseason games before Saturday, then scored one of the biggest goals of his career.

OK, so here's the deal after two games in New Jersey.

The Kings are bigger and more aggressive. They're hungry but patient, which has helped negate any speed advantage the Devils might have had.

Los Angeles had reasons to panic early in Game Two. The Kings were scrambling in overtime, too, but remained composed and they never wavered from their painstaking, shift-by-shift, limb-by-limb style that has disassembled their opponents throughout the playoffs. They were as composed in the dressing room after the game as they were on the ice.

"It feels great, but you don't win anything with two games," Kings forward Jarret Stoll said. "We have two more to go, and they're definitely going to be the toughest."

Almost every advantage the Kings have over the Devils can be found neatly in a black-and-white No. 8 sweater worn by the 22-year-old Drew Doughty, an NHL toddler who already has evolved into an elite defenseman. He scored the critical first goal, which forced the Devils to scramble before Ryan Carter scored in the third period.

Los Angeles had won eight of nine games when scoring first in the postseason, so a weak goal was the last thing New Jersey needed with a loss already in the books. Quick is one of the NHL's best under any circumstances. Give him a lead and allow him to settle into his crease, well, have a nice summer.

Quick makes all the saves he should and a good many he has no business making. He stopped Dainius Zubrus with his right skate on a shot that appeared destined to tie the game in the second period. He was there for the Kings in the third period and again in overtime after the Devils turned up the pressure.

New Jersey better show up with more bite in Southern California or this series could wind up like the others Los Angeles has played. The Devils will be greeted by an energized fan base that has jumped aboard the Kings' bandwagon and is thirsty for its first Stanley Cup in the franchise's 45-year history.

For an eighth-seeded team that grabbed the final playoff spot and knocked off the top three seeds en route to the finals, the Kings hardly have been carried away with their own success. Coach Darryl Sutter doesn't tolerate much, and he has less patience for players who become full of themselves.

The Kings are 14-2 in the postseason and have won a record 10 straight on the road.

Eleven of the 13 teams that won the two games in the final on the road have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. If the Devils can take any solace from the nightmare beginning to this series, it's that the Kings' two postseason losses have come at the Staples Center. But so have four of their victories.

Now they need two more.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com