CHICAGO — In an arena crammed with nearly 22,000 fans whose roars fairly made the ground tremble, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made a solitary and silent skate from his crease to the bench.
It was nine minutes and 20 seconds into the second period and Quick, so stingy through last year's romp to the Stanley Cup championship and this year's trudge to the Western Conference finals, had just given up the last goal the Blackhawks would score Sunday in a 4-2 thrashing of the Kings.
For the first time since a six-game dismissal in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, Quick had to make that long, lonesome trip to the bench during a postseason game. It wasn't just the Kings' starting goalie who left: it was their touchstone.
Quick is the reason they soared last season and the reason they've kept their title defense hopes alive. It wasn't his fault they were swept in the back-to-back games at the United Center that launched this series. But already wounded physically — they lost center Mike Richards to concussion symptoms after he skated in the warmup, and trainers are patching up other banged-up players — they can't also sustain a wound to their confidence. Watching Quick make that exit pained them all.
Asked how he felt at that moment, normally soft-spoken defenseman Robyn Regehr was passionate and blunt.
"What do you think? How do you want me to answer that? It's not a good feeling at all. Plain and simple," he said. "When you see your teammate, a huge part of the team, a guy that's been battling like crazy in there for you and one of the big reasons why we're here, no one was happy to see him come off."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said he had only one motivation to pull Quick in favor of Jonathan Bernier, who stopped nine shots in his playoff debut. "I think we play five games in the next 10 days," he said, referring to the schedule for a seven-game series.
Whether the Kings can take this to seven games is, of course, the next question.
They erased a 2-0 series deficit in the first round against St. Louis, but in facing the Blackhawks they've moved up a weight class or two. Or more.
"With the sustained pressure they've had on us and the way they're able to generate turnovers and then capitalize on them is maybe more effective than St. Louis. They have some different players that are maybe more offensively dynamic," defenseman Rob Scuderi said of the Blackhawks.
The Kings played decently in the first period Sunday, but that wasn't enough against the increasingly confident Blackhawks.
An inadvertent deflection by Trevor Lewis helped Andrew Shaw's shot from the right circle elude Quick 1:56 into the game. That might not have been so bad, but Brent Seabrook beat Quick to the far side with 50.4 seconds left before the first intermission to put the low-scoring Kings in a dangerously deep hole.
"They got one early. They got one late. I thought the first period, that was probably the best period we've played if you look at what we were able to do and get our chances," Quick said.
Regehr, reaching for the puck during a scramble, accidentally poked it past Quick at 7:11 of the second period for a 3-0 Chicago lead. Michal Handzus, a former King, scored on the Blackhawks' 17th shot, the final one Quick faced.
Jeff Carter got one back late in the second period and Tyler Toffoli spoiled Chicago's superb home penalty-killing record with 1:02 left, but the Kings' road record fell to 1-7 this spring.
"Tonight was a little out of our reach, giving up four goals, but I think if you look back at the six losses before that they were all 2-1 games," Quick said.
The series resumes Tuesday at Staples Center, where the Kings have won 14 straight games — but they haven't faced a team as deep as the Blackhawks. Team captain Dustin Brown applied a positive spin to Quick's early exit Sunday, saying it gave the goalie a little extra rest before Game3. Quick vowed to be ready.
"We've got to find a way," he said. "They did their job at home. We've got to go home and do ours."
Presumably without him making another long, mid-game trip to the bench.