The Quick and the Dead: The Resurrection of the Kings Goalie

“I don’t think it would be any different if we were down 3-0,” said L.A. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick late Monday night. He had just recorded a shutout in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, one that put his team a lone win away from its second championship in three years, but you really wouldn’t know it from his hoodied slouch, or the pulled-down-low tilt of his hat, or his monotone voice. “We’re just trying to win a game in a couple days here,” he added. “That’s the focus.”

The reporters in the room tried to dig more. “Do you ever change your attitude?” one asked. “Are you even excited?” Another said to Quick: “I asked you a few times throughout this playoff run, are you having fun? You don’t look like it even though you’re one win away.”

You could understand the lighthearted frustration, the desire to see the on-ice version of Quick up on the interview dais. When he’s in net Quick plays like that one drama queen friend — he’s expressive and angsty; he makes things difficult for himself and then somehow spectacularly cleans up his own messes; he slaps people in the face.

Off the ice, though, he’s measured and businesslike, even as you suspect there’s something more beneath the facade. Monday night was, notably and surprisingly, Quick’s first pro hockey game at Madison Square Garden. But he grew up a Rangers fan in Connecticut, and he’s actually been on the Garden ice before — when he was 12, he suited up for a shootout contest between periods. “To all you guys that said I never played here, I did play here once,” he pointed out. It was basically the only time he cracked a true smile.

When the Kings won the Cup in 2012, Quick’s playoff save percentage was .946, the best performance by a Cup-winning goalie in NHL history. This year, he hasn’t approached that level of play — after Monday night’s 32-save shutout, his postseason stat stands at .910 — but he also hasn’t had to. The team in front of him has been more explosive and well-rounded offensively, and they’ve also been the beneficiaries of some friendly puck luck.

Late in the first period the score was tied 0-0 and Mats Zuccarello found himself wide open on the doorstep, basically just needing to jam the puck inside the left post. It was a play that epitomized so much about this whole series — Quick had actually missed an attempt to glove the puck on an initial shot and in the resulting diving scramble, it juuuuust caromed off Quick’s outstretched stick and/or the post. It’s hard to tell, even when you watch it on replay again and again.

It was one of the more memorable saves of the night — unless, apparently, you’re Jonathan Quick. Asked about it, he couldn’t really remember the play. “I don’t know,” he said. “Yeah, no, I don’t know. I know there was my stick, his stick. I think one of our defensemen was there, too. I don’t know if it took a weird hop or something. It was kind of a scramble. I don’t know. I forget.”

Sometimes you eat the bar, as the ol’ saying goes, and sometimes the bar eats you. One inch one way, and things would be different. Four minutes later the Kings would get the benefit of one inch the other way, with just eight-tenths of a second to play in the first and the puck glancing off Dan Girardi’s skate blade and into the net.

It can be unsatisfying to keep chalking things up to bounces and luck, but no one is in a better position to understand the nihilism of it all than a goaltender whose very livelihood is constantly subject to micro-calculations of physics and/or  whims of the gods. When Quick says he’d feel the same if his team were down 3-0 rather than one win away from having labels like “dynasty” thrown around, it’s easy not to believe him.

But the Kings were down 3-0 once, in the first round against the San Jose Sharks, and it was that kind of attitude that helped turn things around. The playoffs are a long slog, one filled with changes in fortune and constant indignities like having to sleep on airplane floors, and one good way to endure it is to shut it all out.

The good news: We’re potentially one game away from seeing the real Jonathan Quick once again. He doesn’t always show it from one game to the next, but as we learned two seasons back, he’s a man who sure knows how to celebrate.

Filed Under: 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, NHL, Los Angeles Kings, Jonathan Quick, Hockey, New York Rangers

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Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes