The Chicago Blackhawks have done what nobody else could do in the playoffs—they have figured out how to beat Jonathan Quick.
The Los Angeles Kings goaltender had been dominant in six straight playoff series over two years and the defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner had been exuding the kind of confidence that has allowed him to shut down every team he has faced.
Until now. The Chicago Blackhawks scored two goals in the second period Saturday and won Game 1 of the series. Quick was no longer a goaltending wizard...he was just another guy with pads and a goalie mask.
Sunday night, the Blackhawks scored four goals against him before the game had even reached its halfway point. That's when head coach Darryl Sutter had to do something strange. He pulled Quick and replaced him with backup Jonathan Bernier. The Kings lost 4-2 and now trail 2-0 in the series.
Sutter did not lose faith in his goaltender—he merely wanted Quick to save his strength, apparently.
Sutter on pulling Quick: "We play 5 games in the next 10 days."— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) June 3, 2013
Great goaltenders are not robots and can't be perfect all the time. Quick had been on a sensational run in which he had not allowed more than three goals in any postseason game since 2012. That 34-game streak is now over.
Quick is going to try to regain his top form when the Kings take on the Blackhawks at the Staples Center in Game 3 on Tuesday. He will have one day to put this loss behind him and get back to the form that made him the Conn Smythe front-runner just a couple of days ago.
Quick had a 1.50 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage when the Kings finished their series against the San Jose Sharks. That figure has jumped to 1.76 and his save percentage is .940 after the two losses in Chicago.
His playoff resume should allow the 27-year-old Quick to shake off a playoff clunker. He also gets to play at home, where the Kings have been undefeated and reeled off seven straight postseason wins. But it doesn't stop there. Including their last seven home games during the regular season, the 14-game winning streak on home ice is the longest they have ever had.
This is a team that rose from the eighth seed last year to win the Stanley Cup. There is no loss of confidence just because they dropped the first two games of the conference finals. The same thing happened in the first round and they eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six.
Still, beating the Presidents' Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks is a tougher assignment than beating the hard-working but undermanned Blues.
Can Jonathan Quick return to form against the Blackhawks?
It's also going to be tough if they have to continue the fight without Mike Richards, who missed Game 2 after taking a big hit and suffering an upper-body injury Saturday night.
“I talked to him for a minute before the game,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said before the game. “I didn’t feel—and he didn’t feel he should play—either.”
Having the veteran and hard-nosed Richards back in the lineup would certainly make the Kings more competitive in the series. But whether Richards plays Tuesday or not, this series is not over. And nobody knows this better than the Blackhawks.
A little over a week ago, the Blackhawks were on the brink of seeing their season end against the Detroit Red Wings when they dropped three of the first four games of the conference semifinals. They bounced back from what would have been an embarrassing finish and are now riding a five-game winning streak.
The Blackhawks were a team that was struggling to score; now they have driven the best goalie in the NHL playoffs out of his net.
But the sun will rise again for Quick and the Kings. While it looks depressing for them after two games, they are a veteran team with a strong coach. They are not going to give up.
They are not going to stop believing in Quick and the goalie is not going to stop believing in himself. The Kings' sensational playoff run may come to an end against the Blackhawks, but only if Chicago can get the best of the Kings and Quick two more times.
They won't be given anything and the Kings won't die easily. Jonathan Quick simply won't allow it.