LOS ANGELES - When you don't watch someone in a full NHL game for about 10 months, it's easy for the memories to blur and fade a bit around the edges.
Even when it comes to the Los Angeles Kings franchise goaltender Jonathan Quick. The last time fans were able to see Quick in action at Staples Center was on April 22 when the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Kings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Quick's NHL season had been one period against the Sharks at San Jose on Oct. 12. He sustained a groin injury and was out until Saturday when the Kings activated him from injured reserve.
His earlier-than-expected return, coming against the Kings' local rival, the Anaheim Ducks, created an extra edge of anticipation and noise from what is usually a quieter afternoon crowd.
"I think the fans were more excited than the guys on the ice were," Kings forward Tyler Toffoli said, smiling. "…It's been a while for that (kind of reception). It's pretty cool. It's too bad we couldn't have scored that first shift."
The remember-me moments came early and often for Quick in the Kings 4-1 win against the Ducks on Saturday. There was a crowd around Quick for most of the afternoon. First, there were those pesky Ducks, circling in and out of his crease, going hard to the net, doing whatever they could to make life miserable for Quick in his first action since opening night.
Then, after the Ducks mostly failed, there was a circle of reporters around Quick in the postgame, wondering if he could play at such a high level after a 59-game injury absence.
"When you first get hurt, everything runs through your mind," Quick said. "You start thinking thoughts that maybe you shouldn't. I'm glad it worked out that I was able to come back and play here."
Quick's return gave the Kings fresh life in their bid to get back in the Western Conference playoff race. He stopped all but one shot -- from Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano -- in a triumphant return that suggested that Kings, who are three points out of a playoff spot, are not dead yet, and still could salvage something from a challenging season.
Typically, Quick was not expansive about his performance, leaving it for others to explain what his presence in the lineup means to the Kings. It wasn't that his understudy, Peter Budaj, played poorly in Quick's absence.
Video: ANA@LAK: Quick extends for strong pad stop in return
Budaj's night-to-night consistency is the main reason why the Kings were able to muddle along for much of the season. But Quick represents another level. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and the confidence the Kings players have in his play is patently clear, on and off the ice.
"You play your same game," Kings defenseman Brayden McNabb said. "But it's like you guys were saying, 'You know you've got Jonathan Quick back there.' Your shoulders are back a little bit more."
McNabb used the word "calming" to describe Quick's impact. In a separate interview, Kings center and captain Anze Koptiar used the same word.
"There's something about that guy when you have him in net," said Kopitar, whose Kings scored four goals in the third period on Saturday. "It's a calming effect. Any time you can get a player of his caliber, not necessarily a goalie, getting back in the lineup, it kind of sparks the team.
"Not so much in the first two periods but obviously the third period was the one we pushed through and showed some (flashes) of the old team and the team we need to be."
The most important verdict came from Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford.
"He was excellent," Ranford said. "He made some real big energy saves early for us and then I thought his puck-handling was excellent. He eliminated a lot of their forecheck tonight by getting out to pucks and giving our (defense) time. I thought those were the two biggest things I saw today.
"We tried to push it as much as we could. We also had to realize it's about his health. I think he probably came back three games earlier than everybody thought, but he felt ready and obviously it showed he was."
There were other surprises, in fact, in addition to Quick's return. Not many would have predicted that Kings center Jeff Carter, who scored his 30th goal of the season and added an assist, would get in a fight with Ducks center Ryan Kesler.
"It was just one of those moments," Kopitar said. "I don't think you're going to see that on a daily, or nightly occasions."
"Yearly," said Kopitar, agreeing. "Exactly."
Toffoli: "We were joking it was his first Gordie Howe hat trick."
Quick, meanwhile, was reminded about getting "welcomed back" in the crease in the third period, via a two-handed slash on the back of the leg from nemesis, the Ducks' Corey Perry.
"It didn't take long," Quick said.