CALGARY, Canada -- The Kings turned their season around and launched themselves toward the Stanley Cup when they acquired forward Jeff Carter from Columbus last Feb. 23. This season, he is almost single-handedly sustaining their hopes of having a chance to defend their title.
Trevor Lewis scored the go-ahead goal Wednesday on the rebound of a shot by Carter, and Carter provided an insurance goal with a shot from the high slot off a pass by Mike Richards at 9:27 of the third period, key elements of the Kings' 3-1 victory over the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier extended his personal winning streak to three by stopping 26 shots as the Kings (7-6-2) won for the fourth time in five games. The constant element has been Carter's speed, intelligence at both ends of the ice, and ability to score when few other Kings are making opposing goalies break a sweat.
Carter has been the Kings' most effective forward this season whether he's been at wing or center and no matter who has skated alongside him, though he modestly insisted otherwise.
"I don't know about that. A lot of guys have stepped up their game," he said after padding his team-leading goal total to eight. "One player's not going to win a game. We have a lot of guys that are filling a lot of roles for us and doing a lot of things and it's starting to show in some wins."
Since he won't praise himself, let Rob Scuderi do it for him.
"He's been real fast and he always goes to the right spot. They've got him moving around at different positions but he always seems to be putting himself in the right spot, supporting in the right spot," said Scuderi, who made his own splash by contributing two assists Wednesday. "He's probably been our most consistent forward by far."
Lewis, who was singled out Wednesday morning by Coach Darryl Sutter as "one of my favorites, so I want him to produce," scored his first goal of the season to put the Kings ahead for good, at 15:20 of the first period. Dustin Brown had given them the lead by finishing off a clever pass from Anze Kopitar with a shot from the high slot that eluded Calgary goalie Joey MacDonald at 6:15 of the first period, but the Flames matched that at 14:51, when an unchecked T.J. Brodie took a fine pass from Jarome Iginla and bested Bernier.
But Lewis gave the Kings a 2-1 lead when he converted the rebound of a shot by Carter.
"The puck was kind of bouncing there and I was waiting for it to settle a little bit and I just fired it," Lewis said. "I knew I had to go high because he was going to be down. I just fired high.
"I didn't see it go in. I thought actually Richards touched it. I didn't get as good a celebration as I would have liked but it still feels great."
Carter gave them breathing room at 9:27 of the third period, after Richards dug the puck out of the corner and fed Carter in the slot. The Kings killed a penalty called on Kopitar at 14:26 as Bernier stopped 12 shots in the final period.
More and more, they're starting to resemble the team that played so many close, grinding games last season and learned to thrive on pressure. But again, Carter was cautious.
"It's a step in the right direction," he said. "I think we've worked hard to kind of round our game out.…
"We're getting comfortable with winning these close games again, and the goalies are playing great and guys are chipping in."
Scuderi traced the Kings' improvement to their solid performance in a 3-2 loss at Detroit on Feb. 10.
"I like the trending play of our team," he said. "I think we're finally sticking to what made us successful last year. I don't think we were necessarily panicking but we weren't sticking with the same game plan.
"I think now you can see guys are calm, they're making the right play, they're making the right read at the right time, knowing when to get the puck out, when you have time to make a play — all those little things that go into finishing a game, we seem to be doing better now."
None better, so far, than Carter.