Mike Milbury asked a question to Keith Jones after the second period Saturday night that many familiar with the career of Jeff Carter probably would admit to have asked at least once.
"Did you ever think you’d see Jeff Carter become the player he is? He was sort of a big, lazy guy in Philadelphia," Milbury said on NBC.
Milbury could have added "in Columbus" too. But everyone has forgotten that Carter ever played for the Blue Jackets. The Los Angeles Kings center did leave a lasting impression on the Chicago Blackhawks as he paced his team's 4-3 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final with a goal and two assists.
Carter appeared inexorably headed to one of those awful post-big-contract pro careers that have claimed so many. He signed an 11-year, $58 million contract extension with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and posted 36 goals in the ’10-11 season for general manager Paul Holmgren and the Flyers.
But in a shocking summertime deal right before the 2011 draft, Carter was shipped off to Columbus for Jakub Voracek and two draft picks. Then, as longtime Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson correctly observed:
Carter didn't much feel like playing in Columbus but his play in Sochi and in playoffs has been eye-popping for LA— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) May 25, 2014
Indeed. Somewhere on the way to becoming the next Alexei Yashin or Bobby Holik, Carter decided to become arguably the NHL’s deadliest big-game scorer with the Kings. After the Blue Jackets gave up on him, trading him for Jack Johnson, he scored eight goals and 13 points in 20 games in L.A.’s Stanley Cup run of 2012, and he scored the biggest goal in Saturday’s win over Chicago at the Staples Center. He already matched his 2012 goal output for the Kings, one game after being a ringleader in L.A.’s shocking Game 2 comeback in Chicago.
As Matheson noted, he was a stud for Team Canada in Sochi, too. What happened to that big, lazy guy from Philly?
"He’s changed his game," Jones responded to Milbury.
Here’s the thing: I’m not sure he’s changed it all that much. People forget that he was a very good player for the Flyers and helped take his team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 against the Blackhawks. From 2009-11, he posted goal-scoring seasons of 46, 33 and 36 for Philly. Does that sound big and lazy to you?
But it wasn't all a bad rap on Carter. The perception that he didn't care was exacerbated in Columbus, where, even though it was understandably a tough transition for him, he didn't seem to put out 100 percent.
"You didn't see a driven guy," Milbury said. "He wasn't a highly motivated guy. It wasn't like he was dogging it, but he didn't have that extra push you see from superstars. He's found it."
Said Jones, "You look at this series, and it's been the Jeff Carter show."
Carter now has 19 points in the postseason, including 10 in the last four games. Centering the Kings' second line, he is making a mockery of Michal Handzus' attempts to check him from the Chicago side.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville better draw up a new game plan for trying to slow down Carter, because nothing is working. The Blackhawks' second line of Handzus, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp is being dominated by Carter's line, with Tyler Toffoli doing major damage as well. Carter's line has seven goals and eight assists in this series alone.
"I think Jeff Carter gets overlooked," Kings coach Darryl Sutter told The Globe and Mail on Thursday. "He was the leading goal scorer in our conference last year. I know a lot of the talk in this series has been about a player on our team Anze [Kopitar] and a player on their team [Toews]."
Not anymore. Jeff Carter is getting all the publicity now, and for all the right reasons.
But the Blackhawks still have, um, a shot at this thing. A win in Game 4, and she's all tied up going back to the United Center. Try telling that to many of their seemingly panicking fans, though. Twitter was full of frenetic fretting by Hawks lovers after this one loss. So much shooting of the messenger happened after Game 3, in the case of Chicago Sun-Times Hawks beat writer Mark Lazerus, that he felt the need to issue a declaration of principles to the mob:
Folks, I'm a beat writer, not an advocate. It's not my job to change Joel Q's mind. It's my job to report what's on his mind.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) May 25, 2014
Coach Q will make the adjustments I predict. I predict a Hawks win in Game 4, but I still predict a series win for the Kings. Why?
Sutter, Kopitar, Doughty, Richards, Quick and...Carter, of course.
Adrian Dater has covered the NHL for The Denver Post since 1995. Follow him on Twitter @Adater