LOS ANGELES — Henrik Lundqvist was thought to be a distinct advantage for the New York Rangers during the Stanley Cup Final. After all, through three rounds, he led the league in save percentage while the Los Angeles Kings needed to score four or five goals on some nights to counteract the flimsy play of Jonathan Quick.
Yet here we are, two games into the Cup Final, and it’s Quick who is outplaying Lundqvist.
Jonathan Quick's .906 this post season would be the 2nd worst sv% in NHL history for a cup winning goaltender.— Robert Paredes (@RobertJFTC) June 8, 2014
Both goaltenders have a .908 save percentage in this series, so this isn’t to say Quick has returned to his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning form of 2012 while Lundqvist is choking on his own hair product. It’s that in crucial situations, Quick has been there far more often for his team than Lundqvist has been for his team.
In the third period and overtime through two games, Quick has locked everything down.
In Game 1, the Kings held the Rangers to three shots during the third period with the score tied 2-2, but it wasn't a 20-minute vacation that the box score makes it out to be. Two of those shots were deadly chances, yet Quick was there to deny Martin St. Louis and later Carl Hagelin on a breakaway in the final minute to preserve the tie.
In Game 2, it was more of the same from Quick in the third period. The Kings had just scored twice to erase another two-goal deficit, but Brad Richards found himself on the doorstep with nary a defender in range to accost him. Yet Quick slid to his left to deny what could have been a layup and a 5-4 Rangers advantage with half the period remaining.
In the third period and overtime of the Stanley Cup Final, Quick has stopped 21 of 21 shots.
In the third period and overtime of the Stanley Cup Final, Lundqvist has stopped 42 of 46 shots.
It’s not that Lundqvist has played poorly in those situations or that he hasn’t made his fair share of big stops late in games, but Quick has been better when it matters most.
It also wouldn’t hurt the Rangers if Lundqvist wouldn’t relinquish the Kings’ first goal with such ease.
Up 2-0 late in the first period of Game 1, Lundqvist left the near-side post far too early, allowing enough room for Kyle Clifford to beat him to the blocker side to make it 2-1. There wasn’t much Lundqvist or any human alive could have done to prevent Drew Doughty from tying the score at 2-2 in the second period, but the relatively soft goal allowed to Clifford got the ball rolling.
The tally in Game 2 that brought the Kings to within one goal, at 2-1, was less on Lundqvist and more on Richards, who coughed up the puck at the blue line and compounded the error by failing to mark a wide-open Jarret Stoll on the rebound chance. Stoll's goal slithered into a gaping net with Lundqvist sprawled out somewhere in Orange County after overplaying an original shot that never happened.
The Rangers answered that goal with a third, then responded to the Kings’ second goal with one of their own 11 seconds later.
This time, the Rangers had it. As if Lundqvist is going to allow five goals in a game.
One controversial goal and one goal off a Ryan McDonagh gaffe later, the game was tied.
Could Lundqvist have done anything with Dwight King impairing his ability to make a save on the third goal? Doubtful. Could Lundqvist have made a second save on Marian Gaborik after McDonagh made a charitable donation to the Kings' comeback fund? Maybe, but again, that’s asking a lot.
Then again, for the Rangers to win this series, a lot was going to be asked of Lundqvist. He hasn’t answered enough.
One defense of Lundqvist is the play in front of him. There was a giveaway that immediately preceded the goals by Clifford, Stoll and Gaborik, and before Dustin Brown scored in overtime of Game 2, he stripped McDonagh of the puck behind the Rangers’ net.
Justin Williams scored in overtime of Game 1 after a Dan Girardi giveaway as well.
Quick has dealt with more of those situations in the Final and has been up to the task of bailing out his teammates.
The Kings have been guilty of 51 giveaways against the Rangers. Nine of those giveaways have led immediately to shots on net for the Rangers, and Quick has stopped six of them. The most memorable was his save in the first overtime on a Chris Kreider attempt after defenseman Jake Muzzin turned over the puck in front of his net. Quick got just enough of the puck to steer it off the post.
Entering the Final, Quick had been much more consistent than Lundqvist at stopping those menacing chances.
"It's a pretty good feeling as a player to know we have Quicky back there," Kings center Jeff Carter said. "If something like that does happen, we know he's got our back. We know what he's capable of."
The difference in this series and the difference between Quick and Lundqvist when their teammates put them in dire situations is two goals. That’s not coincidence.
Lundqvist and Quick have .908 save percentages in the Final, yet they haven’t played equally well. Not all identical save percentages are created equally.
"Obviously, the difference is not very big," Lundqvist said. "Even the last game, the difference is not big. You just have to stick with it and believe in each other and what we're doing. It's good. It's definitely good enough; it's just one bounce here or there and it's a different score here.
"We came up short in two games. Now we have to go back to New York and turn this around."
The difference between the two is small, but if Lundqvist doesn’t close the gap, the Kings will close this series sooner than later.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.
All statistics via NHL.com.
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