Los Angeles Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter joked during a Thursday conference call that if goaltender Jonathan Quick were to get injured, Jonathan Bernier would be next in line, followed by team vice president and assistant GM Ron Hextall and goaltending coach Bill Ranford.
Getty ImagesThe latter two were Conn Smythe Trophy winners in 1987 and 1990, respectively, while Bernier has yet to experience a playoff game in his NHL career. Quick is the current front-runner for the Smythe as the Kings go for their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Some teams can win in spite of their goaltending, but the Kings wouldn't be close to even a sniff of the Western Conference Final against the Phoenix Coyotes without the work of Quick. His 35-win season made him the first Kings goaltender to record three straight 30-plus win seasons. He also posted an NHL-best 10 shutouts and was top-5 in wins, goals-against average (1.95) and save percentage (.929).
Aside from being a Smythe candidate, he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy; and while he fell short of being a finalist, many believe he was worthy of Hart Trophy consideration. Taking into account that nine of Quick's losses came in games where he allowed just a single goal, it's hard to ignore his inclusion into the MVP discussion.
Sutter has seen this before. While coaching the Calgary Flames during the 2003-04 season when they came within a game of winning the Cup, he watched Miikka Kiprusoff post five shutouts and a 1.85 goals against average en route to Game 7 of the Final that year. To Sutter, what Quick brings to the Kings reminds him of Kiprusoff eight years ago.
"I think they play a lot of the same way in their styles," Sutter said. "It's a bit different than other guys. Same practice habits, both have real similar work ethics, both have the same demeanor in the locker room, but there are real similarities between these two guys."
While many saw this coming from Quick, what Mike Smith has been providing to the Coyotes wasn't predicted.
Spending the last three and a half seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Smith never established himself as a reliable No. 1 goaltender. But when the Coyotes were searching for Ilya Bryzgalov's replacement last summer, the history between Head Coach Dave Tippett and Smith played a role in his signing a 2-year, $4 million deal with the team.
Smith made 37 starts in his first two seasons in the NHL as a member of the Dallas Stars under Tippett. Years later, and looking to fill a void in his roster, Tippett remembered the potential he saw in Smith.
"[I] thought he was a player that if he got the opportunity could really flourish," said Tippett on a conference call Thursday.
"I thought the relationship between him and [Phoenix goaltending coach] Sean Burke would be a very good one. Both of them are similar kinds of goalies and have gone through similar issues in their career. Mike came in, was looking for an opportunity. We had an opportunity to give. And the work he and Sean have done together has given us a very, very good player.
"I really believe through this year he's evolved into one of the elite goaltenders in the league and certainly that's been on display in the playoffs."
For as much praise as Quick has received this season -- and rightfully so -- Smith was just as strong and valuable to the Coyotes. His 38 wins were fourth best in the NHL during the regular season and eight shutouts were tied for third overall. Currently, he and Quick are tied with eight wins and are Nos. 1 and 2 in save-percentage among the final four starters in the playoffs. Smith is also the only netminder to post more than one shutout this postseason.
"[Smith's] as valuable to our team as there is a player in the league," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan. "He's proven himself, but last series he got to go against Pekka Rinne who is nominated for the Vezina. And this series he gets to go against Jonathan Quick. Another guy nominated for the Vezina.
"We'll go as far as Smitty can carry us."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy