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Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick makes a save against the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, Tuesday, May 28, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick makes a save against the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, Tuesday, May 28, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Western Conference final

Duhatschek: Kings lean on Quick once more Add to ...

There is a TV commercial running on the NHL Network these days, in which Los Angeles teammates Jonathan Quick and Matt Greene are purportedly watching a replay – on Greene’s tablet – of a goal the Kings surrendered the night before.

“You should have had that one,” Greene says with a straight face.

Whereupon, Quick immediately responds: “But that’s your guy, right?”

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It’s a neatly timed comic bit, and effective only because hockey players can generally be so awkward delivering lines when the script in no way reflects the reality of the situation.

In real life, Quick – an incredibly guarded, private, and interview-averse goaltender – is just the opposite and never ever points a finger at his defenceman for a goal. He takes them all upon himself.

As for Greene, he is like the rest of the L.A. blueliners, fiercely defensive of Quick, who has recovered from a rocky first half of the regular season to become one of the key figures in the playoffs – and the single biggest reason why the Kings’ Stanley Cup defence is still alive, heading into the Western Conference final, starting Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

In their seven-game, second-round win over the San Jose Sharks, Quick posted a 1.43 goals-against average, lowering his career GAA to 1.94 in 45 playoff games. Eleven other goaltenders in NHL history have compiled a GAA lower than 2.00 with at least 20 games of postseason experience, but of those, only Patrick Lalime played in the last 50 years.

For that matter, the Kings have not allowed more than three goals in any of their last 33 playoff games dating to last year, an NHL record.

It is a remarkable statistical body of work, and yet, when you ask Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford what sets Quick apart from his NHL brethren: “He’s not a big stats guy.

“It’s more about wins and losses for him, which is huge in this day and age. Then, it’s just his attention to detail. He’s constantly trying to get better – through on-ice stuff, as far as the technical side and video,” says Ranford, who backstopped the Edmonton Oilers to the 1990 Stanley Cup.

“I think he’s just really grown up in the last couple of years and matured as an athlete and as a goalie. Nobody expected him to be where he is right now, so he’s always kinda had his back against the wall a little bit and just keeps proving people wrong.”

Ranford’s reference is to the fact Quick was a medium long-shot in his draft year, 2005, when he was selected 72nd overall by Los Angeles. The next year, the Kings drafted the player they thought would be their goalie of the future, Jonathan Bernier, with the 11th-overall pick. They both turned pro in the same season, 2007-08, but Quick got his hands on the starting job first and hasn’t relinquished it.

At a time when many questions are being asked about the state of goaltending in Canada, the Americans have a surplus of high-end netminders heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics. Even though the Americans can also choose from among Craig Anderson (Ottawa Senators), Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings), Cory Schneider (Vancouver Canucks) and Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres), who won tournament MVP honours in Vancouver in 2010, Quick is currently favoured to be the starter in Sochi for Team USA.

There are three essential planks to Quick’s game: leg strength, overall athleticism, and competitiveness, according to Ranford, who says: “He just hates to lose.”

When Quick was coming out of college after two years at the University of Massachusetts, Ranford says he relied too heavily on his athletic ability and not enough to technique.

“So rather than your first option being athletic, we tried to get some technical in there and when you do need to be athletic, it’s still there,” Ranford says. “That’s a big thing. And when you do need to get athletic, it’s to make the second save.

“When we got him, it was always into the splits, down-and-out. Now, when he makes that athletic save, he’s still in a position to make the second one, and that’s what’s really changed. It’s just an adjustment to the body, of keeping it forward, versus falling on your butt, and being in a position where you’re available to make that second save.

“When he broke in, he’d make that unbelievable first stop but the chance of making the second didn’t happen. Now, with his hard work – of changing the way he attacks those pucks – at least he gives himself a chance on the second one.”

Even if the public can’t see it, his teammates insist Quick has a fun side. During last year’s playoff run, defenceman Drew Doughty described Quick as “not like most goalies. Most goalies are kinda weird. They aren’t like most hockey players; I guess you could say you kinda stay away from them. But you can talk to him about anything; you can approach him about anything at any time. He’s awesome.”

But in the spotlight, Quick is all professional – on the ice, in the way he plays the game; and off the ice, in the way he is so deliberately bland he deflects all attention away from him. In the last round, the Sharks did whatever they could to get Quick off his game by creating traffic and contact around the crease. San Jose forward T.J. Galiardi suggested Quick embellishes like nobody else in the game.

On one memorable play, Logan Couture took the legs out from under the L.A. goalie. Seconds later, Quick’s response was to toss the puck up into Couture’s face. Another time, Quick charged after the referees, unhappy about a series of penalties the Kings received at the end of the game that permitted the Sharks to win Game 4. The league spoke to the Kings about Quick’s actions, but let him off with a warning.

Kings defenceman Robyn Regehr has played in front of two Vézina Trophy winners previously in his career, Miikka Kiprusoff (2006, Calgary Flames) and Miller (2010, Sabres). Regehr believes there are many similarities between Quick and Kiprusoff.

“They are not the biggest guys by any means, but their quickness and their athletic ability to get anywhere in the net is really amazing to see, even as a defenceman out there who sees it on a daily basis,” Regehr says. “There are times when you’re on the bench and he makes a save and you say, ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable.’

“So there’s that and there’s also their competitiveness, but it comes out in different ways. Miikka was more subdued and quiet. It wasn’t as overt as Jonathan, who has a little bit more of a fiery side that comes out. You saw it when he got scored on in the San Jose series – and he was mad at the officiating. Inside, it’s still the same drive and competitiveness. It’s just shown a little different ways.”

Thirteen goaltenders have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable performer since the award was introduced in 1965, and three of them are currently employed by the Kings – Quick (2012), Ranford (1990) and assistant general manager Ron Hextall (1987, Philadelphia Flyers).

As a player, Hextall was notorious for his competitiveness and his temper, which frequently got the best of him.

Quick is like that, too – he never gives up on any pucks, makes saves from difficult angles by getting himself in the right position and sometimes, will shatter his goal stick against the post if things don’t go his, or his team’s, way.

But Ranford – who played in Hextall’s era – believes Quick is not quite in the former’s class in terms of letting his emotions boil over.

“He’s definitely an emotional guy, but you don’t see it carry over, even within a game at times –and that’s a positive thing,” Ranford says. “His most heated moments are usually a game-winning goal, and the result of it, and he’s upset about something. You love that spirit about him, but he learned a valuable lesson in the last series – that you gotta to be careful with the referees.”

After the win over San Jose, Quick was asked what was the key to victory. He said: “Instead of losing 2-1, we won 2-1.”

That’s the sort of answer that keeps a lot of his responses out of newspapers and websites. Later, when asked if he was in a zone, where he could do no wrong, Quick replied: “I wouldn’t say that. We’re playing great in our own end as a team. I’m being able to see a lot of pucks, and when I can control them, it really cuts down on the quality of their opportunities. That’s a great team. We’re very fortunate to get four wins against them.”

So as always, Quick lets his play – and his teammates – do the talking for him.

“We get spoiled,” Greene says, “because we get to see him, day-in and day-out, doing all these special things. But the way he’s playing right now? It’s out of this world.”

@eduhatschek

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