Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick makes a blocker save during the third period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues, Thursday, May 3, 2012, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Jonathan Quick's lateral movement is undeniably impressive. Just ask the reporters and team employees who approached his locker for an interview earlier this week, only to watch the Los Angeles Kings' All-Star goalie quickly pivot and back out of the room with remarkable agility.
Quick returned a moment later, of course. He's neither shy nor unpleasant to anybody around the Kings, but the quiet Connecticut native is fully focused on extending a surprising playoff run by a team with an unlikely star in net.
"It's fun to still be playing hockey this time of year," Quick said. "I think this is the deepest I've ever gone into the spring, so it's great. We want to keep going."
After keeping one of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams in the playoff hunt almost by himself for long stretches of Los Angeles' regular season, Quick has allowed only 14 goals in nine playoff games against the Western Conference's top two teams, backstopping the eighth-seeded Kings into the conference finals against Phoenix. Except for Vancouver's Cory Schneider, who only played three games, he leads all playoff goalies with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.
Although Quick's funky, flexible, low-to-the-ice style is often thrilling to watch, his teammates cite his rigorous work ethic and determination as the reason he rose from a third-round draft pick playing in the ECHL to a starring role for a Stanley Cup contender, bypassing bigger prospects and outlasting veterans along the way.
"What's special about him is his desire, his never-give-up attitude," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "Even in practice, when you feel like you have an empty net, he's always striving to stop that puck. It's just what he loves to do. I love it when you come out and score on a goalie in practice and he says something derogatory to you. It means he wants to stop everything. That's a great attitude, and he certainly has that."
Quick is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after finishing the regular season with 35 wins, a 1.95 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and a franchise-record 10 shutouts. His profile will only grow next week when hockey fans get an in-depth look at his puck-stopping skills—a hybrid of aggression, anticipation and pure hustle that doesn't conform to any particular school of goaltending.
He rose gradually through the Los Angeles organization after two seasons at UMass, making stops in the ECHL and AHL. But ever since he took over the starting job midway through the 2008-09 season, Quick has been a welcome revelation for Kings fans.
The franchise suffered through plenty of middling goaltending from a long line of netminders during Los Angeles' eight-year absence from the playoffs between 2002 and 2010. He moved past Coyotes backup Jason LaBarbera, who was traded to clear the way for Quick, and current Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, general manager Dean Lombardi's first-round pick in 2006—just one year after the prior administration chose Quick.
Quick doesn't carry himself as a star or an oddball goalie, either. Other than his taste for hip-hop and hoodies away from the rink, the Kings say not much distinguishes Quick from the rest of them.
"He keeps a very low profile," Los Angeles defenceman Rob Scuderi said. "I've played with a lot of good goalies that were like that, but he just does his job. Even if he lets in a bad goal, he doesn't let it affect his play. I'm sure that's a quality a lot of goalies would like to have. He just has that little extra something. He has great anticipation, and he never gives up on a play. Those two things keep him in every single play."
While many modern goalies are big men who prefer seeing over the defence and using the butterfly to cover the bottom of the net, Quick plays wider and lower, exploiting his impressive athleticism. When he's on his game, he's often crouched with his upper body nearly parallel to the ice, peering between the skaters' legs for the puck.
Everyone from Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to celebrated Canadian commentator Don Cherry have compared Quick in recent weeks to Terry Sawchuk, the Red Wings' Hall of Famer who played for the Kings in their inaugural NHL season in 1967-68. Others see shades of Martin Brodeur and Tim Thomas, two veteran scramblers who don't stick to the popular butterfly template.
"Awkward style, (but) unbelievable focus on finding the puck," Hitchcock said. "The way Sawchuk played goal, that's exactly how Jonathan Quick plays. He never quits on a puck. He's like an old-school goalie."
Hitchcock went farther, comparing Quick's relentlessness to Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour after his 23-save performance in the Kings' second-round clincher last Sunday.
Quick mostly refrains from dissecting his own approach, simply describing it as "less style, more compete." At 6-foot-1, Quick isn't as big as Phoenix's 6-4 Mike Smith or Nashville's 6-5 Pekka Rinne, but he admires Rinne and other goalies who exploit their size.
Quick also praises Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford, the Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie for Edmonton in 1990, for improving his technique without changing his overall approach. The results of their partnership are incontestable.
"In the past, I've got a little too aggressive at times, starting chasing a little bit, and ended up chasing the game," Quick said. "The puck is coming to you, and you can't make the saves too difficult."