NEW YORK — Once upon a time, an 8-year-old boy named Jonathan Quick invited a few friends to his house in Hamden, Conn. They ate ice pops and watched on television as the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden.
“I just remember …” Quick once said, his voice trailing off. “I think I was probably more nervous back then than I am right now for the games. Obviously you watch all the games throughout the playoffs there. … I was really excited for them to win.”
The boy grew up with hockey posters on his bedroom wall, including one of his idol, goalie Mike Richter, and another of those 1994 Rangers crowded around that Cup. When he was 12, he got a chance to play at MSG. His peewee team competed in a shootout between periods of a Rangers game.
Now the boy has become a man. Quick has become the goalie for the Los Angeles Kings. At age 28, he played his first NHL game at MSG on Monday night, and it was the biggest game at the World’s Most Famous Arena since the one he and his friends watched on television.
He pitched a 32-save shutout as the Kings earned a 3-0 victory and took a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final. If the Kings win Wednesday night, he will carry the Cup for the second time – and this time, he will do it on the same ice Richter did.
“I think it definitely plays a part, being on this type of stage,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown, from Ithaca, N.Y. “Being from this area, I think it’s a big deal to anybody who plays here, and I think also, again, the guy at the other end of the ice is a very good goaltender as well, and I think that motivates Quickie because he’s a competitor.”
Entering this series, the theory was that the Rangers were heavy underdogs, that they had one advantage: goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist was The King and playing like it, and Quick had been nothing like he was two years ago, when the Kings won the Cup and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player. But Quick has not allowed a goal in the last 115 minutes and 36 seconds, stopping 49 consecutive shots. He carried the Kings through the third period of Game 2, when they came back from a 4-2 deficit. He carried them through two overtimes. He carried them through Game 3.
“I think that was his best game of the playoffs,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. “He played fantastic for us tonight. He made some big saves, saves he had no business making. His rebound control was good. His puckhandling was good. Everything about his game tonight was great. He was a big reason why we won.”
Quick has been better than Lundqvist. Luckier, too.
There was nothing Lundqvist could do Monday night. He saw only 15 shots. Look at the three that went in: Jeff Carter fired a puck that hit the skate of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, took a right turn, nicked off Lundqvist’s glove and tucked under the bar – with 0.7 seconds left in the first period, a crusher. In the second, Jake Muzzin wristed a puck from the right point that went off the glove of Rangers winger Martin St-Louis, skipped off the ice between Carter’s skates in front and slipped into the net. Later in the second, Mike Richards came down on a 2-on-1 and tried to pass. The puck hit Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and bounced right back to Richards, who scored easily while Lundqvist was sliding the other way. Three pinballing goals, 3-0 for the Kings.
“You try to stay positive right now, but it’s tough,” Lundqvist said. “It’s really tough. … At some point, you are going to need some puck luck, and we don’t have any right now. It feels like they have all of it.”
Quick had the hockey gods on his side on the most spectacular of his saves, no doubt. In the first period, Mats Zuccarello had the puck in his feet in close with Quick out of position, then got his stick on it – only to have it go off the left post and Quick’s outstretched stick. In the second, Derick Brassard had a chance with the left side of the net open. Somehow, Quick stretched out his stick again and got it on the puck again. But this is what Quick does when he’s at his best. It isn’t an accident. He also stayed square and made solid save after solid save the rest of the night. He helped kill six New York power plays.
You know what Quick loved about Richter?
“I grew up a Ranger fan, so I saw a lot of him,” Quick once said. “He was very, very competitive, very explosive. He competes. He battles.”
Quick competes. Quick battles. He’s athletic, moving side to side like there is oil on top of the ice, doing the splits like a gymnast. Some of his younger teammates are like fans. When Quick makes one of his how-did-that-puck-stay-out saves, they look up at the scoreboard screen to watch the replay and find out exactly what happened.
“I like to do that, just because it’s pretty amazing what he can do,” said Kings winger Tyler Toffoli, a 22-year-old rookie. “That one with Zuccarello, I think he just missed the net, and I saw the replay. He definitely got a little piece of it. … How can you not be pretty impressed with stuff like that, you know?”
His older teammates don’t look up much anymore, though. Brown played with Quick for the United States at the Sochi Olympics, and he noticed how his teammates would react after one of Quick’s crazy saves – and how he would just be sitting there.
“I’ve played with him long enough and he’s made enough of those saves that you kind of expect him to do it,” Brown said. “It’s not shocking by any means.”
“He’s one goalie that can save those kind of things,” Doughty said. “He has a different style than all the other goalies. He’s just quick, and he gets post to post faster than any goalie in the whole entire league. Not to say that we expect those saves from him, but we’re so used to seeing them because they happen so often, it’s just normal business.”
Quick will not win the Conn Smythe Trophy again this year. Even including this performance, his numbers are pedestrian. He has a 2.69 goals-against average, a .910 save percentage and two shutouts in these playoffs. He never allowed four goals in a game two years ago; he has allowed four or more eight times this year. But for one night, he was back to being the goalie he was in 2012, and all he needs is one more win for his second Stanley Cup. One more.
He will not wax poetic about his childhood, or his dreams, or the Rangers, or Richter. He is a quiet, intense guy. Now is not the time. Just know: This is where he has always wanted to be.
“It’s the most fun to play in these types of games, these types of environments,” Quick said. “Maybe it seems like I’m not having fun. Whether you win or lose, these are the games that you want to play.”
These are the games you remember.
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