Jeff Carter was shipped to Hollywood in late February for a reason -- to vault one of the least productive goal-scoring teams in the NHL to greater heights.
Carter scored three goals to become the first Kings player since Gretzky in 1993 to score a hat trick in a playoff game as the Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-0 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs had been a struggle for the 27-year-old Carter, but that changed when he delivered a goal-scoring flurry to spot the eighth-seeded Kings a commanding 2-0 series lead, with Games 3 and 4 set to be played in Southern California.
"I tried to keep patient and keep working in practice, during the games trying to get to the net, trying to get a couple good bounces there," Carter told NHL.com. "[I was] lucky enough to get a couple. It's a good start."
After Dwight King opened the scoring in the first period, Carter padded the Kings lead at the 4:47 mark of the second, cashing in on a scoring chance that originated from a strong effort in the Phoenix zone by Dustin Penner. After dumping the puck into the right corner, Penner fought off Shane Doan for possession before tapping it to Mike Richards. Richards then sent a no-look centering feed to the doorstep, where Penner found Carter for a point-blank chance.
"It was huge, especially because we didn't have the best start," Kings forward Anze Kopitar said of Carter's first goal. "We were up in shots, but we were in and out of their zone the whole time. Getting the second goal, and obviously getting the power-play goal [later in the game], was huge for us to get more insurance. After that we brought it home safe."
Carter made the Coyotes pay twice more -- both on five-on-three power plays -- later in the game. Kopitar, who had a hand in both goals on the two-man advantage, fired a wrister that glanced off Carter and went past Coyotes goalie Mike Smith with 1:11 left in the second period to give Los Angeles a 3-0 lead. Then, at the 12:56 mark of the third, Kopitar fired a long shot that Smith stopped, but Carter tapped in the rebound to put the game out of reach.
Game 2 was a defining moment for Carter, who had mustered only one goal in his previous 10 games in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After Los Angeles defeated the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the opening round and ousted the second-seeded St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Semifinals, Carter's game-breaking performance has drawn the Kings within two wins of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final -- a place they haven't been since Gretzky led them there in 1993.