No rivalry for L.A, Boston goalies
It was not only the Kings taking on the Bruins at Staples Center on Saturday afternoon, but also a mano a mano battle between Tim Thomas of the Bruins and Jonathan Quick of the Kings, both of whom were picked to represent Team USA at the Olympics in Vancouver next month.
Only problem is neither Thomas nor Quick was looking upon their purported showdown as anything more than another game.
"It doesn't ever matter who I'm playing against," Thomas said. "Playing goal is not like a head-to-head position. To be honest with you, most nights, I wouldn't even know who's down at the other end."
Los Angeles Kings
Quick agreed: "He's not trying to score on me. The only guys that you're focused on are the forwards and the defensemen. Those are the guys that you prepare for. So no extra incentive for me at all."
"Really? Have you guys already made that decision?" Thomas said after Saturday's game, which was won by the Kings 4-3 in a shootout. "There's still a lot of hockey before we go to the Olympics."
Quick agreed: "I don't think they would have picked me if they thought I would say that I'm the third goalie and I'm happy with that. I'm going to compete. There's a lot of hockey left, so I'm just going focus on continuing to win games and whatever happens, happens."
Of course, you wouldn't expect anything less from two highly competitive athletes, but it is safe to say that Miller is a prohibitive favorite to carry Team USA for as long as he can. Going into Saturday's game against the Islanders, Miller has given up only 75 goals in 38 games and has a league-leading goals-against average of 2.02 with 26 wins and only eight losses. Miller also leads the league with a .936 save percentage and is only one behind Martin Brodeur's league-leading six shutouts.
Largely because of him, the Sabres are one of the surprises of the 2009-10 season, leading the NHL's Northeast Division with 29 wins and 63 points.
Thomas has played 30 games for the Bruins and has four shutouts and a record of 13-12.
Quick has played 43 games and Saturday picked up his 25th win against 15 losses.
Team USA is considered a dark horse going into the Olympics. Both Canada and Russia are viewed as favorites with defending champion Sweden seen as the probable bronze medalist this time. The philosophy of Team USA will be very simple in Vancouver: Crash the net, hope to get some ugly goals and hope that Miller will stand on his head -- as he has so far this season -- and steal a game or two.
Sounds like a great Plan A. But if Miller gets hurt or, however unlikely it may seem, falters at any point during the Games, the good news is that the two guys waiting in the wings are more than capable of carrying the load. Saturday's game was a compelling example.
The Bruins seemed to have it completely under control halfway through the second period, when they scored two goals within 11 seconds to take a 3-1 lead.
"The first one was just a tough bounce," Quick said. "You just forget about that one. The second one was a good play. The guy driving backdoor and a good pass. You can't think about it. You still have half a game to play and you're only down by two goals so you just have to make the next save for your team."
Quick did just that, and the Bruins began taking penalties -- four in row, leading to two 5-on-3 advantages for the Kings. Thomas, supported by the premier penalty-killing unit in the league, refused to buckle, oftentimes looking as if he knew in advance where the Kings were trying to shoot.
"I was just following the puck," Thomas said. "We pre-scout the other team's power play, but when they went on the 5-on-3, my mind went blank. I was like, man, I can't remember what the video was."
Thomas burst out laughing.
"It was probably a good thing in the long run," he said. "It worked out."
Quick wasn't as busy, but then he had one of those moments that he has seemed to face in virtually every game the Kings have played this season: With 47 seconds left in the second period, Daniel Paille busted in on a breakaway. Quick waited him out, flashing his blocker at the last second and making a timely and critical save to keep his team in the game.
"It was a good save for the team," Quick said. "We go down 4-1 at that point and it's a big hole to dig ourselves out of."
At the other end, Thomas naturally saw Quick's big save. "You watch it, of course," he said, "but I watch a million saves every night. If we score, good. If we don't, then I have to stop the shot when it comes my way."
"We got tired of killing 5-on-3," Thomas said. "You have your most important guys out there, it takes a few minutes to catch your breath and they were able to take advantage of that."
At the end of the day, the Bruins lost a point on the road that they would have liked to have. And the Kings won a game that they probably would have lost last season. Just another game in a long NHL season.
And other than the two points he helped secure for his team, for Quick, this was just another win, and not a showdown against his future Olympic teammate.
"Goalies already have enough to worry about, ya know?" Quick said.
"Lot of hockey left before Vancouver," Thomas repeated again. "Lot of hockey left."
Tom Murray covers hockey for ESPNLosAngeles.com.