"You don't get here without goaltending, right?"
That was Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter last week. Both the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils have reached this point because of the strong play of Jonathan Quick and Martin Brodeur. In the Kings' case, they found their way into the playoffs because of Quick.
Also fighting for time in the crease with Quick was the highly-touted Jonathan Bernier, who was either expected to be the No. 1 in the Kings' net or, as he still remains today, end up as trade bait should LA need to fill a void somewhere on the roster. The crease speculation didn't bother Quick and he let his play do the talking winning 105 in his first three seasons and finding himself as the No. 3 goaltender on the Team USA squad during the 2010 Olympics.
It was this season where Quick opened even more eyes with his play. With 35 wins, a 1.95 goals-against average, .929 save-percentage and 10 shutouts during the regular season, Quick rightfully earned a Vezina Trophy nomination.
He'll be facing a four-time Vezina winner in Brodeur, who turned 40 on May 6. The future Hockey Hall of Famer hasn't played this deep into a season since New Jersey's last Stanley Cup triumph in 2003. (He and Petr Sykora Patrik Elias are the only ones remaining from that squad.) Four of the past six seasons in which the Devils have made the playoffs they were bounced in the first round with some very un-Brodeur-like performances.
But the old man was rested during the regular season and has played like a young Brodeur to this point. He's gunning to become the ninth player in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup in three different decades.
Which one gives his team the advantage in the Stanley Cup Final?
Discussing the chances of a Kings conquest in the Stanley Cup Final begin with Jonathan Quick, who was LA's backbone this season. Along with being a Vezina finalist, many would argue Quick should have been in the final three for the Hart Trophy.
Los Angeles' struggles finding their way into the Western Conference playoff picture had little to do with Quick. Most nights he was the one keeping the team in the game. On nine occasions in the regular season Quick allowed a just a single goal and the Kings' impotent offense couldn't earn the victory.
"We did a good job of coming back when we did go through those slumps. It made us stronger, brought more together as a team," Quick said after the series clincher over Phoenix.
As the Kings eventually found their offensive ways, once the playoffs began and they became Cinderella, they were led to the ball by the Conn Smythe Trophy contender and his 12-2 record with a 1.54 GAA and .946 save percentage.
Overshadowed by the 1994/New York Rangers storylines was the fact that Martin Brodeur was playing like it was 18 years ago. Just when you think Brodeur will take a step back with age, he turns back the clock and reminds you he's one of the greatest goaltenders of all-time.
Since turning 40, Brodeur is 6-2 and will be in net for the fifth Stanley Cup Final of his career. Is this a swan song for Brodeur? Not likely with the way he's played.
"It's been a lot of fun this season, playing on a really good team, and I'm enjoying this ride," Brodeur said after eliminating the Rangers. "And I know what I can do, try to compete as hard as I can every night and try to give these guys a chance to win hockey games. And they've been scoring a lot of goals for me in the playoffs so far."
Other than Games 2 and 3 against the Florida Panthers in the first round, Brodeur — like Quick — has won his next start following a loss. Through 18 games, he's posted a 2.04 GAA and .923 save percentage, some of his best postseason numbers in almost a decade.
Aiding Brodeur's success is the fact that his regular season workload has been cut. After years of playing 70-plus games, he's started just 54 and 59 games, respectively, the past two seasons. After an early summer in 2010-11, Brodeur was kept fresh heading into the playoffs thanks to Johan Hedberg's presence. That added rest during the regular season has shown through three rounds.
Quick and the Kings haven't given any reasons to believe they'll stutter in the Final. In games following his two losses, Quick allowed one goal against the Vancouver Canucks and stopped 38 saves against the Phoenix Coyotes. Both were elimination games.
Despite Brodeur's success, he's had his moments of yips in the playoffs and was bailed out by the Devils' offense on several occasions.
The Kings are a much better team than they were during the regular season and mixing that with Quick, who's been even better than his phenomenal regular season, he gets the edge here.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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