|Quick, Smith take different paths to Conference Finals|
|Written by Blake Benzel|
|Monday, 14 May 2012 01:49|
The Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes share many similarities but for goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith, their path to the Western Conference Final is vastly different.On the surface the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are very similar teams. They play similar defensive styles, rely on timely scoring and most of all, they have advanced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the backs of their goaltending.
While the teams may be similar, however, their goaltenders are anything but.
For the Kings, Jonathan Quick has been the team’s go-to guy in net since his rookie season that saw him win the starting job, along with 21 games during the 2008-09 season.
Since being drafted 72nd overall in 2005 as a 19-year-old, right out of high school, the Connecticut native has worked his way through the Kings’ organization, playing in the NCAA, the ECHL and the AHL before finally making his mark in the NHL. He’s done so, moving past other prospects and veterans in the organization to find himself just three wins from playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
“What’s special about him is his desire, his never-give-up attitude,” Kings forward Justin Williams told the Washington Post. “Even in practice, when you feel like you have an empty net, he’s always striving to stop the puck. It’s just what he loves to do. I love it when you come out and score on a goalie in practice and he says something derogatory to you. It means he wants to stop everything. That’s a great attitude, and he certainly has that.”
The attitude has served Quick well this season.
The goalie is a Vezina finalist for the first time with 35 wins, a 1.95 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and 10 shutouts. He has impressed his opponents along the way with his aggressive, unorthodox style that have left some comparing him to Detroit Red Wing great Terry Sawchuk.
“Awkward style, but unbelievable focus on finding the puck,” St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters. “The way Sawchuk played goal, that’s exactly how Jonathan Quick plays. He never quits on a puck. He’s an old school goalie.”
While Quick’s rise to the top of the NHL’s goaltending ranks may not have been easy, it certainly has been more straightforward than that of his counterpart, Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith.
Smith, drafted 161st overall in the 2001 NHL entry draft after an impressive season with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves also found himself spending time in both the ECHL and the AHL. Smith bounced around in the minor leagues before breaking through in the NHL as the back up to Marty Turco in the 2005-06 season.
Smith was the backup in Dallas until being shipped off to Tampa Bay where he would spend the better part of the next three seasons. Despite spending a stint in the AHL last season, he found himself the Lightning’s backup by the time the regular season ended once again.
Smith’s saving grace came, however, from an unlikely source.
After the Coyotes traded the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers, it was clear that they needed a solution in net and coach Dave Tippett saw that solution in Smith.
“[I] thought he was a player that if he got the opportunity could really flourish,” Tippett told reporters on a conference call on May 10. “I thought the relationship between he and Sean Burke would be a very good one. Both of them are similar kinds of goalies and have gone through similar issues in their career. Mike came in, was looking for an opportunity. We had an opportunity to give. … I really believe through this year he’s evolved into one of the elite goaltenders in the league and certainly that’s been on display in the playoffs.”
While Smith’s regular season accomplishments may not be as dazzling as his counterpart’s, there is no doubt that his play of late has been just as spectacular.
After Phoenix’s Game 1 defeat, he has faced 447 shots so far during the postseason, second among goaltenders in the postseason. He leads all goaltenders in shutouts with two, he’s given up just 24 goals for a 1.87 goals-against average and he’s lost just six of his last 21 games – a stretch that has seen him log five shutouts.
“[Smith’s] as valuable to our team as there is a player in the league. … We’ll go as far as Smitty can carry us,” Phoenix captain Shane Doan told reporters.
It's these two divergent courses that have brought both Quick and Smith to where they are and these two courses also influence their playing styles and their ability to both react and recover in difficult situations. Quick, by using his elite atheleticism and Smith through his size and his tremendous positional play.
While Game 1 saw Los Angeles come out on top, there is little doubt that this has the makings of a series that could quite easily go seven games, with both goaltenders continuing to be one of the most intriguing stories of the playoffs and with both goaltenders appearing to be front-runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy, should their team make the Stanley Cup Final.
Game 2: at Phoenix, 9 p.m. ET Tuesday (RDS, TSN, NBCSN)
Photos by Getty Images
|Last Updated on Monday, 14 May 2012 11:27|