EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The spring of Jonathan Quick was beginning to bloom at this time last year.
Quick backstopped the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings to an upset of the No. 1 seed and Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. He allowed more than two goals once in that Stanley Cup Playoff series, and would do so only twice more in the ensuing 15 postseason games. Quick's crablike style of crouching to locate the puck made pundits compare him to Dominik Hasek, and it was clear from his interviews that his focus was tighter than his five-hole.
The final numbers in Quick's Conn Smythe Trophy-winning run: a 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in 20 games.
So how about an encore? Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford lets out a laugh.
"The key point is, when you set a standard that high, that's a lot to live up to," Ranford said. "I don't think he was putting that pressure on himself, but I think we as a group have that expectation of that bar that was set last year. When you're not at that level, everybody's like, 'What's wrong with him?'
"The thing is, he wasn't playing poorly [this season]. There wasn't bad goals going in … it's just that he wasn't making those big saves that he we saw all of last year, basically from the start of the year right to the end."
That's starting to turn for L.A., because despite a loss Wednesday, Quick is 5-1-1 with a .927 save percentage in his past seven starts. He's looked a bit sharper and calmer and it coincided with the addition of big-body defensemen Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene, who clear traffic in front of the net.
Coach Darryl Sutter on March 10 told reporters Quick needed to "get the swagger back," and now teammates see it.
"He's a super-competitive person and he takes a lot of pride in stopping the puck," Dustin Penner said. "I don't think he was stopping as many as he'd like. Everybody, as individuals on this team, had areas to improve on, and it's the ability and want to improve on it because it never stays at that level. You don't get to a level and then you're there and you don't take a step back. You have to keep working to stay there. … It gets harder every year to get to the level that you achieved."
Quick was set back by surgery in August to repair a herniated disc that was pinching a sciatic nerve and remove an inflammatory cyst that formed in his back. At the team's short training camp, Quick said the recovery, at its worst, made it tough to get in and out of bed.
Ranford said that long time off hurt Quick the most. He won three of his first 11 starts (3-5-2) and Sutter increasingly turned to Jonathan Bernier.
"He's the type of guy that really likes to work hard in the gym and he wasn't able to," Ranford said of Quick. "By the time the season started was he strong enough? Lower body? No doubt. Upper body? Questionable, because you had to pick your poison. As a staff, we felt the lower body was the thing he really had to key on to support the back surgery."
Ranford also said, "Not making as many of those 10-bell saves, for him, in the first half, I think is probably the thing that probably got to him more than anything. He's a very proud guy. He's a very competitive guy. I think that got to him more than anything."
2013 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF GOALIES
The numbers for Quick are modest when compared to last season. His save percentage didn't climb above .900 until April 18. He had one shutout; he had 10 last season. But the way the Kings were winning to close the regular season looked a lot more like last spring, when its forecheck gave opponents fits and its defense remained airtight. L.A. was 7-2-3 in its final 12 one-goal games.
But don't bring up statistics to Quick.
"When my numbers were top-five in the League, they didn't mean anything," he said. "When they were bottom-five in the League, they don't mean anything. As long as we go out there and try to win a game, that's all that matters.
"I say that in the majority of my interviews, but you know I really do mean it, though … I've felt good all year."
Off the ice, the typically serious Quick seemed to lighten up early in the season. He talked openly about family when he his wife had their second child, son Carter, last month. But Quick entered playoff mode late in the season, the epitome of Sutter's collection of "awesome, quiet guys."
Penner said he doesn't think that asking Quick to replicate last year's run is too much to ask.
"It's one of those things -- he knows how good he can play," he said. "We know how good he can play. Everybody expects themselves and the guy next to him to play as well as they did last year, if not better, and do what it takes and what is necessary to repeat."