Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick makes a save on a point-blank shot by Devils… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick gives up very little, whether he's facing barrages of shots or volleying questions from reporters trying to learn what makes him tick.
But there's a lot beneath the mask of the man behind the Kings' swift and stunning drive to within one victory of their first Stanley Cup championship. Beneath the gruffness he wears like a protective armor are traces of the 8-year-old who posted pictures of the New York Rangers and goalie Mike Richter on the wall of his bedroom in Hamden, Conn., and he still remembers watching their 1994 Cup win in vivid detail.
"I was at home. I was at my house. Had a few friends over. We ate ice pops watching the game," he said.
"I think I was probably more nervous back then than I am right now for the games."
Quick's calm excellence is a central reason the Kings are in position to lift the Cup on Wednesday night at Staples Center with a 16-2 record and match the powerful 1988 Edmonton Oilers' modern record for the fewest games needed to claim hockey's highest prize.
Dustin Brown has set the pace physically for nearly two months and Anze Kopitar has set the standard statistically, but Quick's brilliance is why the Kings hold a 3-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils and can pull off a feat generations of Kings fans have dreamed about.
"He took himself to a new level and he's playing on another planet and that's what he expects," center Jarret Stoll said Tuesday. "He's a very hard guy on himself, as we all are. As a team too, we want to get better every game, but Quickie for sure, if he can get better any game he wants to try."
As usual, Quick has succeeded there. He has stopped 70 of 72 shots in the Cup Final to reduce his goals-against average to 1.36, the lowest in a playoff year among goalies who have played at least 15 games. Next-best is the 1.55 compiled by Detroit's Chris Osgood in the Red Wings' 19-game Cup run in 2008. That list also includes New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who had a 1.61 average in 2000 and a 1.65 in 2003, both Cup-winning seasons.
Quick's abilities are many: He's so flexible that Brodeur last week compared him to Gumby, he can move faster from post to post than most goalies and he picks up the puck well because he peers under and around bodies rather than trying to see over them. By getting into a crouch he looks smaller than 6 feet 1 and lulls opponents into thinking they can beat him if they aim high.
"He covers the bottom of the net pretty well," said Devils forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, a former King. "I think we have to be in his face a little bit more and get those shots through, get rebounds up high."
How's that going, Alexei? New Jersey scored in Game 1 on a shot that deflected off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and in Game 2 on a redirection no goalie could have stopped. High shot or low, Quick's agility has prevailed.
Above all, though, Quick has shown an uncanny ability to frustrate opponents before they can nurture a fragment of hope into momentum. Defenseman Rob Scuderi said Quick's superb stops on St. Louis Blues forward Andy McDonald in the opening minutes of their second-round series were essential in sustaining the Kings' playoff drive.
"They really jumped out all over us. And I think he stuffed McDonald three or four times on the left side of the net," Scuderi said. "We just needed it at the time and it kind of summed up the season and the postseason."
Quick's out-of-the-gate steadiness has been deflating to the Devils too.
"He's played very well, for me, early in games," Coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've never been able to grab momentum, first goal, at a critical time. That's been a big part for us in the playoffs. We've got to be better at that."
Not that they have much time to improve on that part of their game, or anything else. Quick and the Kings seem intent on bringing this to a sweeping conclusion, which no team has done since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings dismissed the Washington Capitals.
Not surprisingly, Quick wouldn't discuss that. To every question about lifting the Cup he tersely responded that the Kings have only three wins and need one more before they can relax. But when it was suggested his image might soon be on a poster that will get a place of honor on another kid's wall, his serious mask dropped for an instant.
"You kind of focus on what you're doing and you don't really put much time into thinking about that," he said, "but when you put it that way, it's pretty cool to think."
Very cool, actually.