Jonathan Quick and the Best American Goalies in Stanley Cup Playoff History
Only 35 goaltenders born in the United States have ever seen action in a Stanley Cup playoff game.
Only five American backstops have bolstered an NHL team to a postseason championship. And only one has ever been formally recognized as the playoff MVP.
Connecticut native Jonathan Quick is already deep in the company of one of those three groups. If he wins one of the next three games for the Los Angeles Kings, he will certainly join the second and most likely the third.
Regardless of nationality, Quick will enter Game 5 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals with the best goals-against average (1.39) and save percentage (.948) in any individual playoff run lasting more than one round.
Barring the unlikely event of any drastic changes, for himself or for his team, will Quick officially make his country prouder than any of his puck-stopping predecessors?
To answer that, one must take a glance back and assess each of the other historic Stanley Cup campaigns by a U.S.-born netminder, presented in chronological order.
Save for a five-game stint with the Montreal Canadiens, the Minnesota native spent his entire NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks. Karakas arrived and assumed the starting job there in 1935, one year after a triumphant and tragic campaign that saw All-Star goaltender Charlie Gardiner backstop the team’s first championship two months prior to his imminent death.
Within three years, Karakas brought the Cup back to the Windy City, never missing a regular season or postseason start along the way.
The 1937-38 Hawks entered the playoffs with a losing record and would inevitably need to go through an extra best-of-three series if they merely wanted a berth in the finals. Bolstered by Karakas, they won four straight elimination games―two apiece against the Canadiens and New York Americans―including two in overtime.
In the best-of-five championship, Karakas held the Toronto Maple Leafs to eight goals in four games, including one in each of the requisite three victories to claim the crown.
Brimsek hailed from Karakas’ hometown of Eveleth, Minn. and would match two of his athletic acts. He succeeded him as his school’s starting goalie and later succeeded him as the goaltender of a Stanley Cup championship team.
As a rookie in 1938-39, Brimsek was quick to make Boston Bruins fans forget about Tiny Thompson, backstopping all 12 postseason games en route to the franchise’s second Cup.
In the opening round, he backstopped three overtime victories over the New York Rangers, all clinched by Mel “Sudden Death” Hill at the other end. In the second and final series, Brimsek confined the Toronto Maple Leafs to six goals in five games.
His final 1.25 goals-against average in 1939 remains easily the best by any Bruins goalie in a postseason lasting more than one best-of-seven series.
Brimsek backstopped another title run for Boston in 1941, posting a 2.04 goals-against average over 11 games. The only regrettable aspect of all this is that the Conn Smythe Trophy would not be introduced for another 24 years.
Although the Detroit Red Wings are the most recent team to repeat championships in 1997 and 1998, they rode a different goaltender each year in Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood. Accordingly, Barrasso is the last goaltender to have backstopped consecutive title runs.
He started 20 out of 25 games in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 1991 postseason run, all culminating in a 39-save shutout to clinch the Cup in Game 6 of the final round against the Minnesota North Stars.
The following year, the Boston native carried the load for Pittsburgh’s entire ride, including 11 straight victories after trailing the conference semifinals, 2-1, to the New York Rangers. Beginning with a Game 4 overtime triumph, the Penguins swept the remainder of the series, then won four straight over the Bruins and Blackhawks to successfully retain the Cup.
Richter started the 1994 playoffs with back-to-back 6-0 shutouts over the crosstown rival Islanders. He would allow only three goals when the scene shifted to Nassau Coliseum, where the Rangers finished the first-round sweep.
Pretty easy to forget that, along with the subsequent five-game dismissal of the Capitals, considering what Richter and the Rangers did in the climactic stages of the tournament.
For the first time in 29 years, a team would win a seventh game in both the penultimate and final round of the Stanley Cups playoffs. The Rangers did it with Richter backstopping a double-overtime win over their other metropolitan rival from New Jersey followed by a tight, 3-2 decision versus Vancouver.
By the time the ice chips settled and New York’s 54-year drought was over, Richter had played 1,417 minutes in 23 playoff games, the third-most laborious tournament for a goalie up to that time. Only Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall from 1987 and 1994 Cup final rival Kirk MacLean had logged more crease time in a single playoff run.
Richter only went deep on one other occasion in his career, taking the Rangers to the 1997 Eastern Conference finals. Although that ended in a five-game flameout against Philadelphia, his postseason save percentage of .932 over 15 games actually eclipsed that of 1994 (.921 in 23 games).
Richter’s former crease colleague with the Rangers, the Detroit-born Vanbiesbrouck ultimately found his own identity with the expansion Florida Panthers.
His signature run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals saw him post a 2.25 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 22 playoff games. He only met his match in the form of Colorado counterpart Patrick Roy, who outdueled him in a 1-0, triple-overtime decision that gave the Avs a sweep of the final round.
Since Vanbiesbrouck left, three other Panthers goalies have combined to start 11 playoff games, still not even half of the 27 appearances he made between 1996 and 1997.
As a rookie in 2000, the Rhode Island native retained a 2.03 goals-against average while bringing the Philadelphia Flyers to within one win of a berth in the finals.
Much like Vanbiesbrouck with Roy, Boucher was ultimately bested by a future Hall of Fame adversary in Martin Brodeur. Brodeur prevailed in back-to-back 2-1 decisions to help the Devils surmount the Flyers.
One year after following a Vezina Trophy campaign with a 1.85 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in 11 playoff contests, Thomas’ hip failed him and apparently cost him his starting job.
But one offseason surgery later, the blue-collar Michigander assertively seized the crease back from Tuukka Rask with a radiant October and didn’t slow down much for the next seven-plus months.
Like Brimsek before him in 1939, Thomas would win three overtime bouts for the Bruins in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. That included a 4-3 Game 7 victory that dislodged the Canadiens and redeemed his seven-game, sudden-death loss to Carolina in 2009.
And like Richter before him, Thomas proceeded to win a seventh game in both the conference and Cup finals to deliver a long-awaited title to an Original Six team. But he one-upped the ex-Ranger by pitching a shutout in those two series-clinching games over Tampa Bay and Vancouver.
With a 1.98 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in 25 playoff outings, Thomas surprised no one by collecting the Conn Smythe Trophy to go with his second Vezina.
Quick has allowed no more than three goals in any of his first 18 games in the 2012 tournament and confined the opposition to two or fewer in 16 of them. He is 4-0 in overtime and a pristine 10-0 on the road.
A win at New Jersey’s Prudential Center in Game 5 on Saturday would give Quick and the Kings a record 11 road victories in a single postseason along with L.A.’s first Cup in 45 years as a franchise. In addition to that, it would most certainly cement Quick’s claim to the Conn Smythe, putting him in exclusive hardware-laden company with the 2011 Thomas.