Dustin Brown's leadership abilities were doubted outside the Kings' locker room but not by those who sit beside him. His teammates' faith was justified. So, apparently, is his staunch belief the Kings were better than they showed while sliding to eighth in the West this season.
Brown wristed a long rebound past Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider 6 minutes 30 seconds into the third period Sunday to lead the Kings to a 1-0 victory over the top-seeded Canucks and the first 3-0 series lead in the club's long and generally unhappy playoff history. Brown, who has four goals and five points in this series, leveled Vancouver's Henrik Sedin with a hard but clean hit in the second period Sunday, a fine all-around performance in one of the finest hours of the Kings' baffling season.
"This team, we bend, but we don't break," Brown said after the Kings ended a five-game home playoff losing streak before a frenzied crowd at Staples Center and moved into position to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
They can advance with a victory Wednesday, also at Staples Center, and Brown is determined to lead the way again.
"It's important for us to understand that we're up 3-0 in the series. We've got to have that killer instinct," he said.
Brown, who tied an NHL record Friday by scoring two short-handed goals, eluded Vancouver center Samuel Pahlsson and unleashed a shot from the lower edge of the left faceoff circle after Schneider had stopped Justin Williams' initial shot but couldn't control the rebound.
"In my six years being here, I don't think he has played better hockey than he is right now," center Anze Kopitar said of Brown.
The same could be said of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who stopped 41 shots to earn his second career playoff shutout and only the seventh in the Kings' playoff history.
But Quick, who has stopped 111 of 115 shots in three games -- a .965 save percentage -- insisted he and his teammates weren't worthy of lavish praise. Always a critic, he said he could have done a better job controlling rebounds Sunday and said the team can't afford to lose its focus.
"We haven't done anything special. Nothing has been done yet," he said. "There's still work to be done. That's a great team over there."
The Canucks, who lost to Boston in the Stanley Cup finals last season and won the Presidents' Trophy this season for compiling the NHL's best record, had hoped to shake things up by starting Schneider instead of No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo. Schneider played well and got no help on Brown's goal. Vancouver's power play didn't support him, either, going scoreless in four tries, and is 0 for 14 in the series.
Brown, a hard-nosed player who always seems to have a bruise on his cheekbone or cut on his face, isn't the Kings' most skillful player, but he has been their most forceful and influential player over the last six weeks.
Whether he was jolted by hearing his name in trade rumors before the Feb. 27 deadline or simply refused to let a season that began with such promise end with another failure, the impact has been the same and he's leading his teammates on a voyage that now appears about to continue past the first round of the playoffs.
Kopitar knew of the rumors that Brown might get traded. "I'm glad he didn't," Kopitar said.
"Any time your name shows up in all the Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts and everything, I don't think it's the best feeling in the world. At the time we were talking back and forth the night before the deadline. In my mind I was pretty sure he was not going to go anywhere. So obviously he's the captain of our team, probably the best leader out there. We need him."
Brown added energy and emotion to a tight game when he used his shoulder to hit Sedin in the chest, in front of the Canucks' bench. Sedin was winded and went to the locker room but returned quickly.
"I knew right when I hit him it was shoulder on shoulder," Brown said. "A good, hard hit. Guys know when they hit a guy in the head or they don't. . . . I take pride in being physical and doing it the right way."
He is. So are the Kings. "I think it's really just starting for this team," he said, and that's only because he's leading the way.