NEW YORK -- Before the 2014 Stanley Cup Final began, a prevailing theory was Henrik Lundqvist would need to be a significant advantage in the battle of goaltenders with Jonathan Quick for the New York Rangers to have a chance to defeat the Los Angeles Kings.
Through two games, neither goalie was particularly sharp, but one of them had a huge Game 3. It wasn't Lundqvist, and now the Kings are one victory from the Stanley Cup.
Quick was stellar, mixing in a couple of highlight-reel saves amongst the 32 stops he made to help Los Angeles to a 3-0 victory at Madison Square Garden and 3-0 lead in the series.
"I think that was his best game of the playoffs," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "He played fantastic for us [Monday night]. He made some big saves, saves he had no business making. His rebound control was good, his puck-handling was good, everything about his game tonight was great and he was a big reason why he won."
This has not been a great postseason for Quick. He was spectacular two seasons ago when the Kings won the Cup in 2012, and he was great in 2013 until the Chicago Blackhawks wore down the banged up Kings in the Western Conference Final.
The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been inconsistent for Quick, but this was an elite performance. Rebounds have been an issue at times, but he yielded few in Game 3. He was pushing them toward the perimeter instead of leaving them in dangerous areas.
The saves everyone was talking about afterwards came early when the game was still in doubt. Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello had the puck on his stick with 7:26 left in the first period of a scoreless game and an open net to shoot at.
Quick lunged back and stretched out his stick. Zuccarello's shot appeared to hit the near post and might have deflected off Quick's stick before not going into the net. It was the first great chance in a tightly-checked first period.
"It was [going to be] an empty-net goal, and he got a piece of it," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "We've been talking about getting off to a better start and that allowed us to get our legs going and not fall behind early."
Early in the second period, Quick left no doubt with another stick save. Derick Brassard backhanded the puck from near the edge of the crease and thought he had a power-play goal, but the goaltender reached back and knocked it out of the air with his paddle.
"He has a different style than all the other goalies in the League," Doughty said. "He's just quick and he gets post-to-post faster than any goalie in the whole entire League. Not to say that we expect those saves from him, but we're so used to seeing them because they happen so often that it's just normal business."
This postseason began with Quick allowing 12 goals in the first two games against the San Jose Sharks and 16 in the first three. He also had a stretch of 14 goals allowed in three games at the end of the conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The overall numbers have taken a hit. Even with his second shutout of the playoffs, Quick has a .910 save percentage, which would be the lowest for him in the postseason since 2009-10 and down from .946 two years ago and .934 last season.
His teammates have continued to defend him, pointing out the key saves he makes as momentum shifts in otherwise wild contests. The Kings have scored a lot more in 2014 than in 2012, so they've succeeded despite yielding more. Los Angeles has scored three or more goals in nine straight games.
"He's still been very sharp for us and he's been a huge key for our success without a doubt," Doughty said. "Maybe he didn't have to stand on his head like he did in 2012, but [Monday] I thought he stood on his head. He's always our backbone, he always is."
The Kings haven't had many games where the other team had a decisive advantage in shot attempts. This contest was similar to Game 2 of the second round against the Anaheim Ducks, when the Kings went up early and yielded a lot of shots on goal but not many quality chances over the final half of the game.
They haven't had many nights when they've required Quick to be their best player. They needed it Monday night, and he was.
"I don't think he has to remind us too many times," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "We know what he's capable of. That's why we love having him back there."