NEWARK, N.J. -- Two years can sometimes go by like a flash. For Jeff Carter, who scored the overtime goal Saturday night that gave the Los Angeles Kings a 2-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils, two years might as well have been another lifetime.
After losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Carter has traversed a rocky road back to the Stanley Cup finals, one littered with detours. He suffered a sprained right knee during the postseason last year, an injury that kept him out of five games and forced him to watch the Bruins dismantle Philadelphia on its way to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers needed some change; Carter and Mike Richards became collateral damage.
When Richards was traded to Los Angeles and Carter was shipped to Columbus in separate deals last June, the longtime friends probably thought their dream of winning a Cup together was over. Richards acclimated to the West Coast while Carter, who had holed up refusing to speak for days after the trade to Ohio, never found his footing with the Blue Jackets.
Seemingly plagued by injuries, he missed 21 games with three separate ailments from October to December -- a hairline fracture in his foot, a sprained ankle and a separated shoulder. When he returned to full health in February, he promptly scored eight points in nine games, a hat trick on February 21, which would be his last game as a Blue Jacket. At the deadline, he received word he'd be packing again -- this time, to Los Angeles.
And did the Kings need someone like Carter. The offensively-challenged team, ranked 29th in goals per game this season, needed more options in front. Acquiring Carter, a three-time 30-goal scorer, would give Los Angeles firepower beyond its first line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.
Richards, a former teammate in Philadelphia, was not having the sort of scoring impact he had had with the Flyers. His 18 goals and 44 points were his lowest since 2007, a season when he was limited to 59 games.
But reuniting familiar faces can do wonders to players' respective games. Since the trade, Richards has had assists on five of Carter's 11 goals. Their chemistry has been a boon to the Kings, who have gone 26-7-3 since the trade deadline, and 14-2 this postseason, thanks to Carter's game-winner.
"[Carter's] been in the media a lot, been in the storylines," Kings' center Jarret Stoll said after the game. "He was a great addition for our team, a lot of offense coming to us. Depth wise, he made us a [much] better team. Big goal. Huge goal. For him and for our team."
Late in the overtime, the second straight in this finals, Carter had the puck along the boards on the right side. He fired a shot from the bottom of the circle, which Devils goalie Martin Brodeur blockered to the left. Staying with the play, though, Carter swung behind the net and found the puck again on his stick and took it to the slot. Though the Devils had five men collapsing in front of the net, Carter saw a sliver of an opening on Brodeur's blocker side and fired. The goal was, he says, "by far [my] biggest. I think it's my first playoff overtime goal. It's a huge one. It's a big one for the team."
And it's an even bigger one for a player who has been through the gauntlet over the last 12 months, only to find a home in an unexpected place. His goal at 13:42 in overtime took him one step closer to winning the Stanley Cup, a thought that might've seemed completely foreign six months ago. But then again, six months can go by in a flash, or it could feel like a lifetime ago.