NEW YORK – The Los Angeles Kings keep telling us that the fourth win in a series is the toughest one to get. They should know, since they’ve won nine of them over the past four playoffs.
And the question now appears not to be whether the Kings will do it for a 10th time, but whether they’ll become the first team to sweep the Stanley Cup final since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. One thing is certain, though. If Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is as dialed in as he was in his team’s 3-0 win in Game 3, the Kings will be carrying some extra baggage with them back to Los Angeles in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Quick, one of the best goalies on the planet, just barely outplayed Henrik Lundqvist, another one of the best goalies on the planet, in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles. We say that only because the Kings won both games and when his team needed him most, Quick emphatically slammed the door on his opponents and Lundqvist was not. In Game 3, it wasn’t even close.
Yes, those were three unfortunate bounces Lundqvist encountered and those who seem to continue to make excuses for him in this final will say he didn’t have a chance on any of them. But at the other end of the ice, Quick made a couple of saves that he had no business making. Nobody would have faulted Quick had three or four of the Rangers 32 shots, the same way so few have been so eager to absolve Lundqvist of any responsibility for the loss.
But the difference was this. Quick stopped the shots he was supposed to stop and, more importantly, he stopped the ones he wasn’t supposed to stop. Lundqvist, on the other hand, fulfilled only half that mandate. Quick has responded in this series to the sub-par play of his team and his own mistakes by simply not allowing anything past him. Lundqvist allowed a goalie interference goal to rattle him and was not able to close the deal on three two-goal leads in Games 1 and 2. At the very least, Quick has once again muddled the Conn Smythe conversation.
“He was obviously the best player on the ice tonight,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.
This was Quick’s first game at Madison Square Garden, unless you include a shootout he took part in between periods of a Rangers game when he was 12. Quick grew up about 90 minutes from The World’s Most Famous Arena™ in Connecticut and was a fan of Mike Richter. Now he has an opportunity to surpass his childhood hero in Stanley Cups. But true to form, it held no special place for Quick. Like his teammates, Quick gives the impression he simply goes back to the lab after the game where his robotic batteries get recharged.
“It meant a playoff hockey game,” Quick said. “We were trying to win a hockey game and we did a lot of things the right way. Now we’ve got to get ready for the next one. The fourth one is always the most difficult.” But you’re one win away from the Stanley Cup, can you taste it, Quick was asked. “Nope,” was his response.
The Rangers outshot the Kings by a 32-15 margin and held them to just two shots in the third period, but the ice did not seem lopsided. The difference for the Kings in Game 3 was their ability to snuff out any hope the Rangers had by shutting them down on the power play. The Rangers had six power play chances and played almost 20 per cent of the game with the extra man, but couldn’t capitalize on their chances.
That had something to do with the Kings and their best penalty killer being between the pipes. Quick was the difference maker, every bit as much as Jeff Carter scoring with 0.7 seconds remaining in the first period. As it turned out, that was the only goal the Kings needed the way their goaltender was dialed in.
“We threw a lot at Quick in the second and it kind of felt like it was right there to get within one or tie it,” said Ranger center Brad Richards. “It felt like we were real close and it was going to happen, it was going to happen, and all of a sudden the period was over.”
It’s felt like it was going to happen a lot of times for the Rangers in this series. And it hasn’t. And if the trend continues, all of a sudden the series is going to be over.