By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Redemption was sweet for Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick as he rebounded from what he assessed as two sub-par performances with a flawless display against the St. Louis Blues.
The inspirational Quick made 30 saves to complete the fifth playoff shutout of his career and lead the Stanley Cup champions to a gritty 1-0 win in Saturday's Game Three of the National Hockey League playoffs that followed successive losses in the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series.
Though Quick was lavishly praised by his team mates for his stellar form in front of a sellout home crowd at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, the goaltender played down his influential role in typically laid-back fashion.
"There is still room for improvement so we are going to continue doing that, get better and go to work in (Monday's) Game Four," Quick, 27, told Reuters when asked if he had been happy with his own performance.
"We were never out of it, we just won a game. We did what we had to do to win a game. Everybody worked hard.
"It's what you expect when these two teams play each other. They were just throwing pucks from everywhere, but we handled it well and cleaned up most of the rebounds."
The only goal of the night came from Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who scored from the right circle in the second period after a lengthy scramble in front of St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott's net.
Both goaltenders had to dig deep in the face of wave after wave of attack as each team earned four power plays during another hard-hitting and tense encounter.
TAKING THE BLAME
Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season as the most valuable player in the playoffs, has so far stopped 93 of 97 shots in this series, and none of his team mates accepts he should have taken the blame for the losses in Games One and Two.
"Obviously that's inane for him to say any of those losses are on him," said right wing Justin Williams, who saved the fifth-seeded Kings with about five minutes left on Saturday after diving full-length to knock a loose puck out of the slot.
"But that's who you want as a goaltender - a goaltender who's going to battle for you. A guy who wants to stop every puck that comes toward him. That's what he does.
"In this series we'll need him to be at his best because goals are going to be at a premium. The story for us (in Game Three) was Jonathan Quick. That's the difference for us."
Kings captain Dustin Brown agreed fulsomely, saying: "Quickie had to be really good for us, but the way he played is no surprise to anybody. We need to clean up our D-zone. They had a lot of opportunities."
St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock accepts the fourth seeds will have to do a better offensive job against Quick on Monday at Staples Center.
"We just have to come back and find a way to out-work the goalie," Hitchcock said. "I thought we did a lot of good things, we created a lot of turnovers but we didn't sustain the pressure.
"There is not much difference between the two teams. Both goalies are on top of their game. Our guy (Elliott) was great again tonight, their guy was a little bit better."
Armed with reflexes to match his surname, Quick helped his team win their first Stanley Cup last year with a series of brilliant postseason performances, allowing just seven goals in the best-of-seven finals against the New Jersey Devils.
By his own lofty standards, Quick was frustrated by his initial form against the Blues in this postseason, mishandling the puck behind the net in overtime for a 2-1 loss in Game One and allowing a last-minute goal in Game Two for another 2-1 defeat.
"I've got to stop that," Quick said before Game Three. "It's my fault two games in a row. I've got to be better."
Asked if he was perhaps too much of a perfectionist, Quick told Reuters with a dead-pan expression: "No. No. You just want to win. That's all."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)