NEW YORK – For a stretch of 10 minutes in the middle frame of the first Stanley Cup Final game at MSG in 20 years, the New York Rangers fired 13 consecutive shots at the goal of the L.A. Kings.
Jonathan Quick turned aside each and every one of them and so many more - 32 in all - as he and the Kings nudged the Rangers to the brink of elimination on a sticky Monday night in Manhattan.
“He was obviously the best player on the ice tonight,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said glumly afterward.
Asked what went wrong, Vigneault deferred to Quick.
“We couldn't score,” he said.
This was a flashback to the remarkable Quick of two years earlier, the Quick who rung up three shutouts and a .946 save percentage in a near-flawless march to the Kings' first Stanley Cup. The now 28-year-old hadn't been nearly as dominant this time around. He entered Game 3 with a mild .906 save percentage while sprinkling in the usual assortment of game-changing stops, including a breakaway save on Carl Hagelin in the dying moments of regulation in Game 1.
“I think that was his best game of the playoffs,” Drew Doughty said of Quick in a visitors' dressing room that remained cool and business-like, despite the Cup drawing near. “He played fantastic for us tonight. He made some big saves, saves he had no business making.”
Most memorable and crowd-deafening among them was a heroic stop on Mats Zuccarello in the opening period, one that saw the Kings netminder employ every last ounce of will to keep the puck from crossing the line – the net appeared open – his paddle the ultimate saving grace.
Some on the L.A. bench, including captain Dustin Brown, thought Zuccarello simply missed the gaping cage only to discover later on replay that it was Quick who kept it out.
“He's the best in the world,” said Jarret Stoll. “He's going to come up with those saves sometimes, it doesn't surprise us.”
His brilliance only continued thereafter.
Amid the aforementioned barrage of shots in a second period plagued with penalties – L.A. was a perfect on six penalty kills – Quick calmly brushed aside Rick Nash's hard charge to the net before swatting Derick Brassard's attempt away for another glowing stick save.
Brown, also a teammate of Quick with the American squad internationally, is past being surprised by such theatrics in the crease.
“The best example is playing at the Olympics and seeing other guys react to it and I'm just sitting there because I've played with him long enough and he's made enough of those saves you kind of expect him to do it,” said Brown.
Born in nearby Connecticut and a Rangers fan growing up – the 90-minute drive kept him from attending many games – Quick had never played an NHL game in the historic Mecca of New York hockey, though he did take to the ice briefly as a 12-year-old in one rare visit.
This performance will surely eclipse such a memory.
Cloaked in a hoodie and sweats afterward, Quick downplayed any added meaning to his debut on the hallowed ice of MSG.
“It meant it was a playoff hockey game,” he said slyly. “We were trying to win a hockey game.”
One more and the taste will be a whole lot sweeter.