Kings goalie Jonathan Quick will have to play at the top of his game if the… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
From San Jose — If the Kings' first-round playoff series against San Jose does not become Jonathan Quick's showcase, if the 25-year-old goaltender does not dominate the seventh-seeded Kings' matchup against the second-seeded Sharks starting Thursday at HP Pavilion, it will be a quick series for the Kings, and not in a good way.
"He's the focal point of everything," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "Every team that's ever won the Stanley Cup has always had a goalie who's either been great all season or turned it on in the postseason, and he'll have to be our best player."
Quick would have had to be exceptional even if the Kings' offense hadn't lost most of its cleverness when right wing Justin Williams suffered a dislocated shoulder March 21 and center Anze Kopitar wrecked his ankle five days later. Williams said Wednesday he's ready for the opener, welcome news for a team that in its final seven games scored one power-play goal and 11 total.
Williams, whose linemates will be determined in Thursday's morning skate, gets a restrictive harness and respect for playing while he's one mean check away from an operating table.
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"I'm an important part of this team offensively and if I feel I can help the team, which I know I can, I'm going to tell the coach I can play," said Williams, who had 22 goals and 57 points in 73 games.
He did, though his effectiveness will be in question.
"He'll have an impact in the sense that he's an offensive player who can hold onto pucks in the offensive zone. That's a part of our game, the cycle game," Coach Terry Murray said. "We take a lot of pride in that area of the offensive part of the game and he's going to add to it because of his creativity."
But it's the defensive part of the game that was and must remain their strength against the Pacific Division champion Sharks.
The Kings' best chance to succeed will be to play 1-0 or 2-1 games, to smother the seven Sharks who scored 20 or more goals — a feat done by six Kings — and to sustain a cohesive team defense.
In other words, they won't change much strategically.
"We're not a very offensive team and we rely on our defense. Obviously we have to do a good job in front of [Quick] and give him easy shots and get guys out of the way for him," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We're fully confident he's going to be huge for us.
"He makes big saves at key moments. Without him we probably wouldn't be where we are now."
Quick sees an opportunity, not pressure.
"We've been playing like that all year," he said. "We've got to get dirty goals. Even when we have those guys in the lineup it doesn't change how we play our game. It's the same system. And we need guys to chip in and score by committee, and that's something we've been doing all year."
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Like the Kings, Quick experienced extremes this season while posting impressive numbers.
With Jonathan Bernier a more reliable backup than Erik Ersberg last season, Quick wasn't overworked, and he played 11 fewer games and nearly 700 fewer minutes. His 35-22-3 record made him the first Kings goalie with back-to-back 30-win seasons; his .918 save percentage set a club record and his 2.24 goals-against average tied a club record while ranking sixth in the NHL. He led the league with a 10-0 record in shootouts,
No matter how he played, he never lost his poise.
"I love playing in front of him," Scuderi said. "He doesn't get fazed. He doesn't get rattled. He's just a calming presence and it gives the rest of the team confidence to know that even if he lets in a soft one he's not going to let it bother him and he's going to play the same consistent hockey that he's played for us all year."
Stoic enough to blame himself on every goal, Quick won't concede that fatigue caused his late fade last season and subpar performance in the Kings' six-game playoff loss to Vancouver. He had a 3.50 goals-against average and an .884 save percentage.
"That was a year ago. It's tough to recall. But I feel good right now. I'm not comparing it to a year ago," he said. "All I'm worried about is how I feel right now and I'm looking forward to the challenge ahead of us. I'm feeling good physically, mentally, and I know that as a team we're really looking forward to this."
They are looking at a buzz saw in the Sharks, who reached the Western Conference finals last spring but were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks improved their goaltending by signing Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi, who had 35 wins, a 2.38 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
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The Sharks are grittier this season and their top three centers — Patrick Marleau, who led the team with 37 goals and 73 points, rookie-of-the-year contender Logan Couture (32 goals, 56 points), and the versatile Joe Pavelski — match any in the NHL.
Quick is respectful but not fearful.
"They're a great team. They do a lot of great things," he said. "They have some skill up front, some solid defensemen and a great goalie so it's going to take a big effort if we want to come out on top, and that's exactly what we're looking to do."
In other words, a Quick series, if not a quick one.