Mason Brown bounded into his parents' bedroom last Thursday morning, marched over to their bed and surveyed his father's face. "Daddy," he said, "you have a new boo-boo." This is a favorite game in the Brown home. Some young children like to play Candy Land or with Legos. The rough-and-tumble Brown boys prefer to play boo-boos, scanning their father for abrasions, cuts, lumps, bumps, sutures and the always-popular hematomas. Ever since four-year-old Jake and three-year-old Mason saw their father on the Staples Center video screen with blood streaming down his face, they have been obsessed with boo-boos. They show him theirs, and he shows them his.
Dustin Brown is the undisputed boo-boos champion.
The exciting new find was a black-brown smudge, five stitches directly under his nose and above his lip, which looked as if it had been stung repeatedly by wasps. It was the residue of an errant puck that had struck the Kings' captain some 12 hours earlier in the second period of a 3--1 loss to the Canucks in Game 4 of the conference quarterfinals—a defeat that, for the moment, kept eighth-seeded Los Angeles from sweeping Vancouver, the Presidents' Trophy winner, out of the playoffs. There also was a clump of congealed blood on his right ear, the result of his helmet's being knocked askew. Brown gestures toward his left ear with his right hand—his left is swathed in what looks like a fingerless oven mitt that protects his jammed wrist—and shows off remnants of month-old stitches, the by-product of Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk's skate blade. The comma-shaped indentation above his left brow is a reminder of the 2004--05 season, when he spent the lockout in the minors.
Like a Hollywood tour of the stars' homes, every stitch is a story, and every indentation is an anecdote. Brown's otherwise boyish face looks like a baseball that an umpire is about to toss out of play. Nicole, his wife, now limits family portraits to just the three boys (Cooper, the youngest, is one) because she wearied of having to reschedule photo sessions.
"He's pretty much always a mess," says Rob Blake, a manager in the NHL Department of Player Safety who preceded Brown as the Kings' captain. "I'll see him at the rink. Teeth out. Black eye. The reason he gets that way is the way he hits. He comes at guys straight on, face-to-face. He goes right through guys, which makes him more susceptible to errant sticks or elbows."
A straight-on Brown hit left an indelible impression on the 2012 playoffs, not merely in L.A.'s first-round series against the Canucks but on the tournamentwide outbreak of thuggery that Sharks coach Todd McLellan labeled "borderline chaos." Brown wallpapered Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin with a literally breathtaking hit in a 1--0 Game 3 victory on April 15, a check that started the NHL on the road back from an ugly start to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which featured nearly a fortnight of cheap shots and postwhistle mayhem.
Brown's hit, however, which came just in front of the Canucks' bench early in the second period—and Sedin's affirmation that it was clean—was the NHL's adult moment. Within 48 hours of the check, the playoffs seemed to simmer down. The carnage was downgraded. Irrational ceded its place to rugged. (The exception, of course, was Coyotes' forward Raffi Torres's launching himself into Blackhawks star Marian Hossa, who was wheeled off on a stretcher early in a 3--2 Phoenix win on April 17 that put Chicago in a 2--1 series hole. According to the collective bargaining agreement, the league could not give the Coyotes' headshot recidivist 20-to-life, so last Saturday it settled for a 25-game suspension.)
The metaphysical nature of the hit on Sedin was as significant as its physical force, as laudable as Brown's game-winner in the same match and his two shorthanded goals in Game 2. He was stuffed on a Game 4 penalty shot—"I don't know why three games makes you Superman," observed Kings coach Darryl Sutter, a wry gentleman who would need to see more before blurting something as trite as "Heckuva job, Brownie"—and the 27-year-old winger failed to score in Game 5 on Sunday as Los Angeles eliminated Vancouver with a 2--1 overtime win, but he did dish out six hits and block two shots. This was the Kings' first series win in 11 years.
"You can look good and lose," Brown was saying at his kitchen table as his boys tumbled home after their swimming lessons. "Or you can look ugly and win."
Fourteen months ago his seat was considerably hotter, metaphorically at least, than the one in the kitchen of his Manhattan Beach home. Brown was in a second-floor conference room at the Kings' practice facility. General manager Dean Lombardi and assistant G.M. Ron Hextall were there. Terry Murray, then the coach, was there with his staff. For a full hour L.A.'s management gave Brown the devil about the C he had been wearing since Oct. 8, 2008.