Southern California hockey fans have seen the likes of this before, have they not?
Goaltender Jonathan Quick is 10 games into his 2012 Stanley Cup playoff run with the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, who have already dislodged the top two teams in the Western Conference.
At this time in his run with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2003, Jean-Sebastien Giguere had likewise conquered the conference’s ostensible elites. With only two missteps, both in the second round, he backstopped the Ducks to startling series victories over Detroit and Dallas.
From there, Anaheim swept a fellow Cinderella squad from Minnesota en route to a best-of-seven seesaw with the New Jersey Devils, which culminated in defeat for the Ducks, but a Conn Smythe Trophy for Giguere.
Don’t doubt the prospect of the same basic story unfolding for the Los Angeles metropolitan area’s other NHL franchise this year.
Quick and his skating mates have already pinned down the President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks and the second-seeded St. Louis Blues. On Sunday night, they improved to 9-1 in these playoffs by winning the Western Conference finals opener against another unlikely third-round participant from Phoenix.
The present Quick and the past Giguere are not clones by any means. Neither are their teams or their playoff logs.
The Kings’ core had already whet its blades with a pair of back-to-back first-round exits in 2010 and 2011, despite genuinely valiant efforts against clear-cut favorites from Vancouver and San Jose. Anaheim was slightly more impressive in that the franchise had gone four years without any prior playoff action.
In his first 10 games during the 2003 tournament, Giguere worked 92 minutes and 43 seconds of overtime, winning all four decisions, including three on the road and two that required multiple bonus rounds. And his regular-season stats did not put him in quite the same echelon among his peers as Quick’s did throughout 2011-12.
Then again, Quick has been going about his business without the help of notorious Sasquatch-sized pads.
Regardless, the noteworthy differences end there. The similarities are striking.
At the 10-game mark of his 2003 playoff run, Giguere had a 1.60 goals-against average and .949 save percentage. So far, Quick has retained a 1.59 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage.
OK, there is one other discrepancy. When his Ducks had a chance to polish off the Stars in Game 5 of the conference semifinals, Giguere was pulled at the second intermission upon authorizing a 3-0 deficit on 19 shots-faced.
That was Anaheim’s first road loss in five outings and one of three times within the first 10 games of the 2003 playoffs that Giguere allowed three goals.
So far, at 9-1 in the current tournament and 6-0 on enemy ponds, Quick has confined his opponents to two goals or fewer with only one exception. That would be the Kings’ lone loss to date in Game 4 of the Vancouver series.
Incidentally, that pulls him even with the 2003 Giguere in that both were 2-1 through the first two rounds when they had a chance to close out an adversary.
Giguere would finish 3-2 in that situation, helping the Ducks to sweep the higher-seeded Wild before the constant underdog label finally woke up in the finals against New Jersey.
Quick’s Kings might not have as much facility disposing of the Coyotes, a divisional rival who finished a mere two points ahead of them. But having usurped home-ice advantage with Sunday’s 4-2 decision at Jobing.com Arena, they have reached a point where it would be more surprising if they are not the ones posing with the Campbell Bowl.
With that being said, the Devils should be the favorites to emerge from the Eastern Conference, particularly owing to the fact that the opposing New York Rangers maxed out their ice time in the first two rounds.
In the possible-to-probable event of Los Angeles crossing paths with New Jersey in the cup finals, the odds are in favor of the team that claimed triple-digit points in the regular season and whose three-time champion goaltender, Martin Brodeur, can and hopes to will his way to a sweet swan song.
Or, as a final touch on their turnaround brought on by midseason coaching replacement Darryl Sutter, the Kings could claim the crown. In that event, a Conn Smythe for Quick would be all the more justified, even more so than it was for Giguere in 2003.