NEW YORK — The outcome of a hockey game is decided by many factors. Some are more pronounced than others, depending on the game itself.
Skill, determination, toughness, speed, intelligence are always part of the story. Sometimes people will wax poetic about heart and grit. Other times it's something as simple as special teams.
The Los Angeles Kings are one win from their second Stanley Cup in three years after a 3-0 victory against the New York Rangers in Game 3 of this Final series Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Perhaps you'll hear about how the Kings "just know how to win" or some other strain of that narrative coming out of this contest in which the Rangers controlled play for long stretches but had nothing to show for it.
There's truth in that. There is three years of evidence that proves the Kings truly know how to win.
But that's not why the Kings won Game 3.
The Kings were fortunate on this night. They got the bounces. They got lucky.
But they earned that good fortune. They earned those bounces. They earned that luck.
And the man most responsible for allowing the Kings the opportunity to catch those breaks was Jonathan Quick, a man who has underperformed throughout the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs but looked every bit like the goaltender who dominated during the 2012 postseason on the way to a title and Conn Smythe Trophy.
"Tonight," Kings captain Dustin Brown said, "I thought he was the reason we won the game, quite honestly."
This has not been the Quick the world came to know in 2012, when he went 16-4 with a .946 save percentage. He has been uneven at best and a liability at worst in 2014, having his sub-par play camouflaged by an offense that is scoring 3.5 goals per game.
Entering Game 3, Quick was at .906, which would have been the worst save percentage for any Cup-winning goalie since 1990.
I'm just going to leave this right here without comment. pic.twitter.com/xX1Sw3F8wg— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) June 9, 2014
None of that mattered in Game 3.
The Rangers didn't hem the Kings in their zone during what was a defensively stout first period that lacked any real flow. But the first great scoring chance of the game came off the stick of Mats Zuccarello, who had the puck at his feet in the crease with a vacated cage in front of him.
Quick's aggressiveness can backfire, and it looked as if it would in this case. But a desperate, sprawling, lunging Quick denied Zuccarello with the paddle of his stick to keep the game scoreless.
"I didn't even see the puck until late," Zuccarello said. "I wish it went in."
It's not that the Kings haven't proven that they can come back from an early deficit in this series, but that wouldn't be necessary in Game 3 thanks to that save.
Not long after that stop, Jeff Carter was the beneficiary of a terrific pass from Justin Williams in the neutral zone and a fortuitous bounce off the leg of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, as his wrist shot in the final second of the first period ricocheted past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to make it 1-0.
The hockey gods smiled on the Kings again in the second period, as a Jake Muzzin shot from the top of the zone tipped off the leg of Martin St. Louis, giving the Kings a 2-0 lead the Rangers twice relinquished in games at Staples Center.
The Rangers outshot the Kings 32-15 in Game 3 and had a 30-17 edge in five-on-five shot attempts, although much of that was amassed after the Kings took the two-goal lead.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault did not use the word "luck" when describing why his team lost—he acknowledged that Quick was the best player on the ice—but it was there in his answer.
"We sort of got a bad read on the first (goal)," Vigneault said. "We deflect in our net. Same thing happened on the second goal. On the third goal, we played a 2-on-1 right, take the pass, goes right back on their stick."
The Kings took a 3-0 lead with 2:46 remaining in the second period when Mike Richards tried to feed Trevor Lewis on a 2-on-1. The pass hit the skate of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and caromed back to the stick of Richards, who buried the self-pass with Lundqvist moving to his right in anticipation of a pass that was never completed.
It's OK to say the Kings got the bounces, got the puck luck in Game 3. Quick's brilliance was a facilitator in that luck, however, and that luck would not have had the chance to exist if not for his stop on Zuccarello in the first and his 17 saves in the second period, one of which was another paddle denial, this time out of mid-air, on Derick Brassard.
Girardi's gamble of pinching that proved to be unwise only happens with the Rangers down two goals late in the second period, and the Rangers aren't in that position if not for Quick slamming the door at every turn through 40 minutes.
"It's not to say we expect those saves from him," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "But we're so used to seeing them because they happen so often that it's just normal business. I don't even remember the saves just because he does it all the time.
"He's still been very sharp for us and a huge key to our success. Maybe he didn't have to stand on his head like he did in 2012 but tonight I thought he stood on his head."
On Quick's save on Zuccarello in the first period, Kings center Jarret Stoll said: "Those are the saves you need and that's the type of goalie he is."
Quick has not allowed a goal since the second period of Game 2, a span of 115 minutes, 36 seconds. He has faced 32 shots in the third period and overtime in this series and stopped them all.
Luck was on the side of the Kings on Monday night; but more importantly, so was Quick.
"He was great," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "He made a huge stop in the first period, which for the most part everybody thought it was going to go in. And then a couple of huge stops in the second period, too. He’s been great for us all the time and we’re going to need him for at least one more."
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