Defensive playoff hockey isn’t for everyone.
Mark Spector of Sportsnet doesn’t like knowing a 2-1 game will eventually be a 2-1 game. Damien Cox doesn’t like … anything, really, but also Tuesday night’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks.
The way the Kings defend their goal, especially on home ice, guarantees we aren’t going to see fire-wagon hockey. They blocked 16 Sharks’ shots in Game 7, and rank fifth in the postseason in total blocks with 178 in 13 games.
But that defense isn’t impenetrable. The Sharks had their chances. The reason why Game 7 was a 2-1 game – a nail-biter for some, hockey Valium for others, apparently – is because Jonathan Quick is playing out of his damned mind, for the second straight postseason.
There isn’t another goalie in the playoffs worthy of mention in the same paragraph as Quick. He elevated his game in the second round of the playoffs so high he can taste the clouds.
“He’s awesome back there for us, and he’s making saves he shouldn’t. It’s keeping us in games and it’s keeping us alive in this thing,” said defenseman Matt Greene.
He isn’t just the best goaltender in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s their best player at the moment.
Quick faced 181 shots in the seven games against the Sharks, giving up 10 goals and pitching two shutouts. Through his first 13 games of the postseason, he has a 1.50 GAA, a .948 save percentage and three shutouts. His numbers through 13 games last season, according to Kevin Young: 1.46 GAA, .948 save percentage and two shutouts.
While giving a goalie the captaincy is a bad idea – right, Vancouver? – a goalie can lead from the crease. Quick is the Kings’ MVP, as was affirmed by his Conn Smythe in 2012.
The Kings feed off of what Quick provides them. He made two saves prior to Justin Williams’ goal in the second period of Game 7, with Quick’s acrobatic stops transferring the momentum to his team.
He robbed Logan Couture:
He stopped Joe Pavelski:
Fifteen minutes into the third period, the Kings on top 2-1, Quick made a sprawling glove stop off Joe Pavelski. It was enough for L.A. to oust the Sharks and advance to the Western Conference final against either the Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Blackhawks. Enough to get Tom Cruise out of his seat and cheering. Enough, too, for Quick to record his 13th consecutive win on home ice.
The scary thing about Quick is the more he’s playing, the better he’s getting. He didn’t have a great regular season. He won three of his first 11 games and was losing ice time to backup Jonathan Bernier. It was all because of the surgery Quick underwent last August when doctors discovered a herniated disc in his back that was pinching a nerve. There was also an inflammatory cyst that had to come out.
He didn’t have the strongest start against the St. Louis Blues in Round 1, either. But he’s gotten better the deeper the Kings have advanced. By the time Game 7 rolled around, at Staples Center, Quick was going to preserve whatever lead the Kings spotted him.
“We couldn’t get one extra past Quick, that’s probably what it was,” said Sharks Coad Todd McLellan, after the game.
But Quick isn’t just stopping pucks. He’s aggressively challenging shooters. He’s forcefully trying to clear out screens in front of him.
Quick plays with a swagger, an attitude and intensity that we haven’t witnessed since Tim Thomas’s run to the Cup with the Boston Bruins. He draws calls like he’s Dustin Brown. He curses out the officials after the game when he thinks his team was jobbed on penalty calls. He tosses the puck at opponents sometimes, too:
Goaltenders suck the scoring out of hockey. It’s their job. But there’s a difference between preventing the puck from entering the net and sucking the fun out of the game. Jonathan Quick didn’t allow a goal in the final two minutes of Game 7, but I defy you to tell me that the saves he was making – confidently, emphatically and athletically – weren’t as thrilling as any Pavel Datsyuk stick-handling move or Sidney Crosby cross-ice pass.
He’s in complete control right now, locked into a zone no other player in the playoffs has located, meaning more to his team’s success than any other player in the postseason.
Only two players have won back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophies: Bernie Parent (1974-75) and Mario Lemieux (1991-92).
Quick is eight wins away from joining them.