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No Rivalry In Net

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
It's almost human nature in hockey. Two goalies, one spot. Some acrimony must exist.

Right? No, not always. Sometimes ego is set aside. Sometimes a goalie can actually sit and watch and cheer for his teammate. Sometimes it's not always about putting a knife in the other guy's back and trying to make yourself look better at his expense.

Goaltending in the NHL is always fluid, but at the moment, the Kings have a highly enviable situation. They have two young goaltenders, both with multi-year contracts and neither with the type of me-first attitude that has the potential to derail a team.

``it’s a team effort,'' Quick said after his shutout win over Philadelphia on Sunday. ``We are teammates. There is nothing there. We just want to win games for our team.''

Goalie Jonathan Quick makes one of his forty saves against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
Best of all for the Kings, the on-ice product has been just as good, of late, as the off-ice camaraderie. No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick is 6-0-1 in his last seven decisions and backup Jonathan Bernier has allowed two or fewer goals in four consecutive starts.

Both goalies appear to be hitting their strides at an important part of the season and, on a nightly basis, give the Kings a chance to win despite some offensive shortcomings.

Entering Wednesday's game at Columbus, Quick has played 42 games and has a 2.08 goals-against average (second in the NHL) and a .924 save percentage. Bernier has played 16 games and has a 2.72 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.

Both goalies are coming off big efforts. Bernier recorded a 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals on Saturday, then Quick stopped all 40 shots to beat the Flyers on Sunday.

``You get into games this time in the year and you are usually looking at one-goal games so the goaltender has to be big,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``He has to come up with the right save at the right time.

``We made big stops the other night against premier (Washington) players and the same thing happened (against the Flyers). There were a lot of plays happening from behind the net with Philadelphia. They were quick, bang-bang plays that required incredible focus and concentration. However, he [Quick] was right on top of it.''

The plan remains for Quick to get the bulk of the work for the rest of the season, although the Kings remain on schedule in terms of their plan to rest Quick more often.

Quick played 70 games last season, but during the summer and training camp, Murray said his goal was to limit Quick to no more than 60 starts. As of now, Quick is on pace for exactly 60 starts, and is turning in some of his best efforts of the season.

``it seems like every time we need a huge game out of him, he stands on his head,'' Kings forward and assistant captain Anze Kopitar said. ``He gets a shutout or something and it's obviously huge for the team and huge for the success that we’re looking for.''

Recent results have given the Kings exactly what they hoped for: a situation in which they can turn, with confidence, to either goalie in important late-season games.

In fact, it's what they hoped for going back a few years.

The Kings selected Quick in the third round of the 2005 draft. The next season, Bernier was general manager Dean Lombardi's first selection, at No. 11 in the first round.

Jonathan Bernier made his NHL debut overseas in 2007 when the Kings faced the Ducks in London.  Here, Bernier fights to see through a screen set by Todd Bertuzzi. (AP)
Since then, the goalies' careers have been intertwined. Both made their NHL debuts during the 2007-08 season, Bernier with a four-game stint at the start of the season, before he was returned to his junior team, and Quick with a three-game stint.

Quick and Bernier started 2008-09 together in Manchester of the American Hockey League. The presumption, perhaps from outside observers, was that Bernier had the fast track to the NHL, based on draft position and his success in junior hockey.

But when the Kings needed a goalie in the middle of the 2008-09 season, Quick was playing better than Bernier at the time, so he got the call. Since then, Quick has been the Kings' No. 1 goalie, but that didn't totally quiet talk of a ``controversy.''

Even after last season, when Quick set franchise goalie records for games and wins, much of the leaguewide media talk about the Kings centered on how Bernier would have a good chance of unseating Quick for the Kings' No. 1 job.

Bernier did indeed win a spot on the roster coming out of training camp, but from the first day, Murray has been firm that Quick is his No. 1 guy, and stats have backed it up. Every goalie likes to play, of course, but Bernier has not been the slightest distraction.

``As a team, we want to do good,'' Bernier said, regarding his playing time. ``So right now, it doesn't matter if it's me or Quickie. We just want to get the job done.''

After a recent Kings road game, a reporter from the home city talked to Quick, and while the tone of the questions weren't controversial in nature, the reporter seemed to be trying to explore the nature of the competition between Quick and Bernier.

Quick would have none of it. Asked if Bernier's recent strong play put any pressure on him, Quick said, ``No, that has nothing to do with it.''

Pressed further, about a ``fun little competition'' between himself and Bernier, Quick wouldn't budge, saying, ``That's not the motivation at all. As teammates, we are trying to win games for our team. That's all the motivation that there is.''

And, by all accounts, it's genuine. Quick and Bernier, while fiery competitors on the ice, are both easygoing and friendly in the locker room. That's a huge relief for Murray, who knows he doesn't have to worry about any back-biting in the locker room.

``What is most important, when you have two goaltenders that are playing at a good level right now, is that they're playing hard for the L.A. Kings,'' Murray said. ``They're in there working hard for each other, supporting each other, cheering each other on. They're good teammates, they're both quality people and both are on top of their game right now.

``That's very meaningful for the hockey club right now. Everybody in the locker room, the players, they recognize it and appreciate the hard work that they put in, not only in winning hockey games right now but in seeing them win and compete hard in practice. It makes our team a better team, when you have goaltenders that work that hard at their game, in all the drills. They're good people and they really support each other.''

That puts Murray's mind at ease. That level of camaraderie seems likely to remain for the rest of the season, and the coach can only hope that the goalies' level of play on the ice remains at a similarly high level.

``It's critical to have the confidence and have your players, at that position, playing at the top of their game at this time of the year,'' Murray said. ``Every game is so hard and so important. The points that you try to pull out of every game are so meaningful in the standings every day. Those two guys right now, on the back end, they have to make the big save, the grade-A chance against, whenever it's there.

``We don't want to give up too many of those, but it does happen, and to have them on the top of their game like that, it means a lot to the team, obviously. You have to have it. That's just the way it is in the game. That's the way it is today. Everything is so tight, one-goal games, and you've got to have everybody in desperation mode right now.''

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