BUFFALO — Last Friday, Coach Mike Murphy of the Kings issued what he euphemistically called a "challenge" to center Bernie Nicholls.
"He kind of said, if we don't go," Nicholls said of his line, which also includes Bob Carpenter and Jim Fox, "the team don't go."
Sunday night, the trio answered with six goals and five assists, with Nicholls and Carpenter each scoring three goals in an 8-5 victory over the Buffalo Sabres before a crowd of 11,126 at the Memorial Auditorium.
Nicholls, who also had three assists, equaled a club record and career high with his six points.
And he and Carpenter both had nine shots on goal.
It was the kind of offensive outburst that Murphy had in mind during training camp when he moved Carpenter from center to left wing to play with Nicholls, his roommate on the road and closest friend on the team.
Apparently, it was also one of the things he talked about Friday in Toronto when, in a move that one player said was meant to embarrass them, Murphy excused 11 players from practice, including Nicholls and Carpenter.
"What we talked about is team business," Murphy said. "It's private and it's personal, but basically we defined his role and how we expect him to play. He doesn't get put down by that. He just gets better. I think he responds very well to challenges."
He responded with two goals Saturday night in a 6-6 tie at Toronto.
Then, in his ninth game since returning to the lineup after missing 10 games with a broken left index finger, Nicholls scored twice in the first 13 minutes as the Kings jumped out to a 4-2 first-period lead.
He later assisted on a goal by Luc Robitaille and two power-play goals by Carpenter before adding an empty-net goal of his own in the final minute for his ninth career hat trick.
Still wearing a brace, Nicholls doesn't have much range of motion in his finger, he said, but the pain is gone.
That's good news not only to Nicholls, who has 8 goals and 10 assists since returning to the lineup Nov. 4, but also to Carpenter, who has 4 goals and 11 assists since Nicholls' return.
"I think we really play well together," Carpenter said. "I usually know what Bernie's going to do with the puck. It's just a matter of me getting there. We really complement each other."
A lot of that, Carpenter suggested, has to do with their friendship. Nicholls helped him through a trying time last March, he said, after he was traded from the New York Rangers for the second time in less than three months.
"It was really difficult for me, but he took me in like a real friend," Carpenter said. "We played golf together and hung around a lot. It was a lot easier for me to know I had a good friend on the team."
When Carpenter was moved to his line, Nicholls was delighted.
"I've never really had a fast left winger who could handle the puck and shoot as well as Bobby," Nicholls said. "He's a very head's up player, and if you give him the puck, you know that he knows what he's doing with it."
Nicholls' return, Murphy said, has made Carpenter more effective.
"A guy like Nicholls gets you a lot of room because he backs the defense off because he shoots so well," Murphy said.
"I think Bobby felt a lot of frustration when Bernie was out."
The Kings, in general, felt a lot of frustration before ending a six-game road winless streak. In the first three games of this four-game trip, they crumbled in the third period.
This time, Murphy didn't have to say much during the second intermission. The Sabres had cut the Kings' lead to 5-4 with two goals in the last three minutes of the second period.
"We knew exactly what we needed to do," Carpenter said. "We'd been robbed of five points on this trip because of our mental lapses. We knew tonight we had to play a full 60 minutes."