Kings' Jonathan Quick is the difference
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The blast from San Jose's Jason Demers found its way through legs and sticks, but there was Jonathan Quick, peering through the crowd Saturday night and not only making the save, but giving no rebound.
The 25-year-old netminder has stopped 76 of 79 shots directed his way through two games of a Western Conference quarterfinal series with the favored San Jose Sharks, and if the Los Angeles Kings are going to pull off the upset, it's going to start with Quick being the difference-maker.
So far, so good as the Kings go home to Los Angeles with a 1-1 split and Game 3 on Tuesday night at Staples Center, where Quick will again be front and center.
"Two things I like about his game: he can make the huge save, and he has the ability to bounce back from a goal he wishes he could do over again," Kings head coach Terry Murray told ESPN.com this weekend. "He can come back right away. He's mentally tough."
Case in point, Logan Couture's goal in Game 1 that squeezed through Quick's pads. Not a great goal. The Kings goalie has responded by allowing only one goal in nearly five periods of hockey since.
"He's a great goaltender," veteran Kings blueliner Willie Mitchell told ESPN.com. "He's got exceptional feet. There's a reason our shootout record was the way it is [Kings were NHL-best 10-2]. Because he's really good on the push, side to side, covers the bottom of the net. He doesn't give it up on a puck, he's a battler in the net. I think he has those attributes because it didn't come easy for him. He had to battle his way to get where he is now. It wasn't the conventional route, he was in the ECHL and the American League."
Quick, drafted 72nd overall by the Kings in the 2005 NHL entry draft, actually played in the ECHL, AHL and NHL all in the same year in 2007-08, albeit just a three-game stint with the Kings that season. After beginning the 2008-09 with AHL Manchester, he was brought up by the Kings and made the kind of splash that has kept him the starter with the big club.
Oh sure, there's been ups and downs. In his first NHL playoff series last spring he gave up 21 goals in six games to Vancouver, his .884 save percentage and 3.50 goals-against average from that series giving him pause for thought entering the offseason.
"It was a disappointing end to the season last year, and you want to be better than that," Quick told ESPN.com this weekend.
The native of Milford, Conn., committed himself more than ever in his summer workouts and arrived at camp ready to take the next step.
"Quick has been tremendous this year," Murray said. "From the day he got to the training camp, I think his game showed to be at the next level. He learned a lot from the playoffs last year. That was a great experience for him. Emotionally and mentally, he was ready to take it to the next level and he has."
When Quick showed up to camp, he had a new mate to share the net with. Jonathan Bernier had mastered the AHL level and was ready for his NHL promotion. Talk around the league was that perhaps Bernier would put a serious push into Quick early in the season, which would make things interesting, especially given how the playoffs ended last year.
Instead, despite a solid rookie year by the highly regarded Bernier, Quick tightened his grip on the No. 1 job with his best season yet (.918 save percentage, 2.24 GAA).
Did the appearance of Bernier push Quick?
"I didn't look at it like that, we're both on the same team and trying to win games for this team," Quick said. "No matter what the situation is, you want to be better. That's just the natural progression of making it in this league for the most part. Nothing else really came into play. You just want to better for your team and for yourself."
Murray said you can't discount Bernier's presence in all this.
"It's a healthy kind of challenge that we all face as players when new guys come in," said the veteran coach. "Bernier was a real good add to the hockey club. The relationship with him and Quick is healthy."
And that's the thing, the two netminders have been supportive of each other. You're never sure, really, how that's going to play out. After all, pro athletes are ultra-competitive. And when it comes to goalies in the history of this league, the battle for starts has had different tales. Just witness Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak last year in Montreal. There wasn't enough net for those two. One had to go.
It may be one day that the Kings will also move one of these two netminders, and according to an NHL scout we spoke to over the weekend, they don't have a wrong choice.
"Bernier is going to be stud of a goalie in this league, he's the real deal," said the scout. "But Quick has been real impressive for them as well. He reminds me so much of Curtis Joseph in his prime. He can make that save that takes your breath away."
"He's capable of making the 'wow' save all the time," Murray said.
Quick's tutelage got a boost last February when he sat back as the No. 3 goalie for Team USA and closely monitored how Olympic tournament MVP Ryan Miller and former Vezina winner Tim Thomas did their thing.
"Just the experience alone of being there in the locker room and with that group of guys and obviously seeing Millsy and Timmy do their thing, they're two of the best in the league," Quick said. "I learned a lot just watching how they prepared for their games. There's a reason they are where they are, and I certainly picked up some things."
One year later, it's fair to say he might just be in their league. All the more reason the Sharks have their work cut out over the next week.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.