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Brown delivers knockout punch when his team needed him most

Dustin Brown wasn't sure how to express himself with the celebration around him after the game. He had handed off the Stanley Cup to teammate Willie Mitchell a good 20 minutes earlier and still hadn't collected himself, stopping briefly and saying nothing and everything just the same.

"There are so many people behind this team," Brown said. "I don't know, man. Words can't explain it."

What do you say after coming through in the biggest game of your life?

Brown was the guy who had essentially called upon himself for answers after the machine known as the Los Angeles Kings started coughing and sputtering on the way to the finish line. He did what the best leaders should do in that situation: He figured out a way to carry his team when it needed him most.

The Kings' captain had seven goals and was the team's heart and soul for three rounds before suddenly losing steam in the Stanley Cup final. He had only one assist to show for the best-of-seven series, a fact that had gone largely unnoticed with the Kings on the verge of sweeping the Devils.

Doubts about whether the Kings would bring home their first Stanley Cup title in their 45-year history crept into their dressing room when they lost the fourth game, then the fifth. Let's face it, they would have been reeling, and likely losing, if forced to play a seventh game in New Jersey.

It seemed rather fitting Monday night, with so much energy in the building and the Kings facing a must-or-bust situation, that Brown scored the first goal, set up the second goal and effectively put Los Angeles in the driver's seat. Their biggest gamer came to the rescue in their biggest game.

Brown helped get the Kings back on the right road, and they stormed through the Devils in a 6-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup before 18,858 fans in Staples Center. They became the first eighth seed to win the title since the NHL implemented its current format in 1993. They were anything but mediocre in the postseason.

The Kings took advantage of a boneheaded play by former Sabres forward Steve Bernier, who was nearly out of the league before the season began. He was out of the game before the first intermission when he unloaded on Rob Scuderi from behind.

It was the kind of hit that could draw the attention of NHL warden Brendan Shanahan, but Sheriff Shanny could show compassion in this case. Bernier served enough punishment in a quiet dressing room while the Kings scored three power-play goals on the ensuing major penalty. Adding a suspension for next year might amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

Ultimately, the Kings clinched the series over the Devils much the way they dominated the Canucks, Blues and Coyotes before them. They built a big lead and applied more pressure than their opponents could withstand. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was under siege for most of the first period and had no chance of stopping Brown's goal.

Mike Richards, the key component of the Kings' blockbuster trade last summer with the Flyers, started the play when he eased a pass inside the blue line to Drew Doughty. The defenseman waited for Brown to get himself in scoring position and left a pass on his tape that Brown directed into an open net.

Three great players, one great goal.

Just as Brown ordered. It started with him.

"Starting with him is right," Richards said. "He was unbelievable. Every time we needed a big game, certainly in this playoff, he stepped up in a big way. You can't say enough about him. He was unbelievable."

Brown initially was given credit for the second goal but the Ithaca native earned an assist when Jeff Carter grabbed a piece of his shot from the slot. Two goals less than two minutes apart, and the Kings were on their way.

Trevor Lewis gave them a 3-0 lead moments later, and Bernier's worst nightmare came true. Carter, who was acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline, waltzed through the zone like it was Saturday night skate-and-shoot, burying a pass from Brown for a 4-0 lead and turning Game Six into a day at the beach in Southern California.

Game, set, match.

"This is the most resilient group I've ever been a part of," Richards said. "We lost a couple of games in the finals and didn't let it shake us. Our captain led the way tonight. This is an unbelievable feeling."

All that remained was a long celebration that was 4 1/2 decades in the making. Whatever drama that came through the doors before the game left after the first period. The only uncertainty was whether goaltender Jonathan Quick would post a shutout and collect the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

And he did collect the hardware.

Quick was superb for two months but was barely tested Monday. He faced only 10 shots in the first two periods and had a 4-1 lead after Adam Henrique scored late in the second. Quick wasn't going to allow four more. The Kings gave up only 31 goals in four rounds, the same number Pittsburgh surrendered as Philadelphia delivered a first-round KO.

An eighth seed winning the Cup comes as a surprise because it never happened, but the real shock was the Kings struggling all season. They came together after the Kings hired hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter, who pushed his team in the second half of the season until they began pushing one another.

They could have buckled after losing two straight games in the final. They would have been left at the curb had they lost Monday and been forced to play a seventh game. Brown took control and showed them the way.

"Your best players need to be your best players," Brown said. "We've had that all year. Today, there was an opportunity to do something special. Our big guys stepped up. It was a team effort. We had everyone playing. It's been the key to our success."

email: bgleason@buffnews.com