NEW YORK -- Luc Robitaille, the Hall of Fame winger and Los Angeles Kings president, remembers the day distinctly.
There'd been rumors leading up to the 2012 trade deadline that Kings captain Dustin Brown might be in play. The team was still not assured of a playoff spot, even though head coach Terry Murray had been replaced a few weeks earlier by Darryl Sutter, and Brown was not playing well.
But that night, Feb. 25, 2012, against the Chicago Blackhawks, Brown scored a natural hat trick and added an assist for a four-point night and a 4-0 Kings victory. It was an emphatic statement from Brown, who has never played for another NHL team.
"It was almost like, no way" are you going to trade me, Robitaille told ESPN.com. "And then we went on a tear."
Less than four months later, Brown was delivering another virtuoso performance, this one a one-goal, two-assist effort, in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals as the Kings won their first Stanley Cup.
With the Kings one win away from their second Stanley Cup in three years, this spring has once again seen Brown rise to the occasion with inspired, physical play and timely offensive production.
In Game 2, midway through the second overtime period, it was Brown deflecting a Willie Mitchell shot past New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist to stake the Kings to a 2-0 series lead in spite of falling behind in both games.
"He's been our guy. He's been our leader," Robitaille said of Brown, who was selected by the Kings with the 13th overall pick in 2003.
There's an old hockey chestnut that sometimes the best trades are the ones that you don't make. GM Dean Lombardi certainly wouldn't have had any problems unloading Brown if he'd decided to go down that road back in 2012.
But it's hard to imagine this Kings team without Brown. In fact, there is much evidence that he has been integral in establishing and then reinforcing over time the Kings' identity.
"We've been in this position before," Brown told reporters after the Kings' 3-0 victory Monday night set the stage for a possible Cup celebration on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. "Confidence, that's a part of it, but it's more about your will this time of year. It's resetting and reloading. I know that gets boring for you guys, but that's the truth."
Zach Parise was born a few months earlier than Brown and, in many ways, grew up alongside Brown playing internationally at the junior level and then twice on U.S. Olympic teams.
"He fits in very well. He's a very likable guy," Parise told ESPN.com. "But he's also very quiet. He's always been a pretty quiet guy, although he's vocal when he has to be."
Quiet, however, isn't a word to describe his game. Parise laughed as he recalled the first couple of shifts of the 2012 Stanley Cup finals when Parise was still with New Jersey and facing Brown's Kings, and Brown lined up Parise for a crushing hit not long after puck drop.
"Luckily, I saw him coming at the last second," Parise said. "I remember thinking, oh, here we go. I guess we're not going to be friends for a couple of weeks."