Dustin Brown skates through hats thrown on the ice by fans after scoring… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
Trade rumors that have swirled madly the past few weeks had bothered Dustin Brown, and the Kings' captain finally decided there was one place he wanted to go.
Not Toronto, Boston, Buffalo or any of the half-dozen other teams that reportedly have pursued the Kings' bruising winger.
The destination he chose Saturday — and the only place he hopes to go — is to the front of the net, where he can best use his size and grit to revive the team's sorry offense and lift his own production. Brown found his way there Saturday to record a natural hat trick — three straight goals — and add an assist in the Kings' 4-0 rout of the surprisingly listless Chicago Blackhawks at Staples Center.
For the Kings, who introduced new acquisition Jeff Carter to the hometown crowd by giving him 17 minutes 16 seconds of ice time, it was the final game before the trade deadline of noon PST on Monday. Brown, their longest-tenured active player with 575 career games, didn't want it to be his final game with the team that drafted him 13th overall in 2003.
"I've been a King my whole career and I expect to be a King beyond the next few days," he said after registering his third career hat trick and matching a career best with four points.
"For me personally, with all the rumors flying around, it's my responsibility to prepare myself to be the best I can. Tonight I felt good."
Brown, cited last week by Coach Darryl Sutter as a leader whose game had gone stale, scored two power-play goals in the first period and a game-breaking short-handed goal in the second period and tied Anze Kopitar for the team goal-scoring lead with 17.
Brown finished off a nearly rink-length rush by Jarret Stoll by whipping a shot to Corey Crawford's glove side at 10 minutes 48 seconds of the opening period, went to his backhand to lift the rebound of an Alec Martinez shot past Crawford seven minutes later, after Stoll had won a faceoff in the Blackhawks' end.
Then Brown triggered a cascade of hats at 4:56 of the second period when he took a short pass from Willie Mitchell and beat Crawford from close range.
Brown also set up the final goal, by Mitchell, at 6:49 of the second period with a slick pass back to the point.
"It's great to see him get rewarded. He's been doing those little things all year for us," said goaltender Jonathan Quick, who stopped 19 shots to earn his seventh shutout of the season and tie Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers for the NHL lead.
Sutter said he saw more directness to Brown's game Saturday than he had seen in a while.
"He was going to the net. Really good. When he was taking shots that's where he was going," Sutter said. "Not across or anywhere else — just straight that way. That's the type of player he is. That's always how it's been."
Brown went 11 games without a goal before scoring at Phoenix on Tuesday and had become frustrated with his inability to finish. It helped that on Saturday he and his teammates didn't treat dangerous areas around the net like shark-infested frozen waters.
"We've probably gotten away from that this year as a whole, and we need to bring awareness and focus to getting into the middle of the ice and getting into those good scoring areas," he said.
The Kings entered the game averaging a league-low 2.05 goals per game and were encouraged by the victory, but Brown wasn't prepared to say their woes are over while they're still outside the top eight in the West.
"Things went well for me tonight. I hope to build on it," he said. "We've been struggling as a team. I've been struggling personally to score goals, and it definitely felt good to score some goals tonight As a team we've got to focus on getting into those scoring areas."
The only place, in other words, he hopes go.