LOS ANGELES — Jonathan Quick admits he initially wondered whether he could return from a severe groin injury at all this season.
After 4 1/2 months away, the Los Angeles Kings‘ stalwart goalie is scrambling around the Staples Center crease again, just in time for their playoff push.
Quick made 32 saves in the Kings’ 4-1 rivalry win over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. The two-time Stanley Cup winner had been out for 59 games since he went down in the first period of their season opener Oct. 12.
"Obviously, when you first get hurt, everything runs through your mind," Quick said. "You start thinking thoughts that maybe you shouldn’t, and (I’m) just glad it worked out that I was able to come back and play here."
From his standing ovation in pregame introductions to his frantic final saves, Quick provided a noticeable boost in his return. The Kings and their fans have been drained by Los Angeles’ struggle to stay in playoff position in recent weeks, with seven losses in the previous 11 home games despite solid goaltending from Peter Budaj.
The Kings haven’t won a playoff round since their run to their second Stanley Cup title in 2014, but Quick’s unorthodox, theatrical style of play has long epitomized this core group’s ability to meet remarkable challenges in unusual ways.
Now the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is back — and maybe the Kings are, too.
"It was exciting for everybody — players, coaches, fans," said Darryl Sutter, who became the winningest coach in Kings history with the victory. "It was fun to see. He’s an emotional leader in a lot of ways for our hockey club. It’s good to have him back in the room."
Quick gave up his only goal in the first period when Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano redirected a pass from Ryan Kesler. The Ducks couldn’t beat him again, and Quick spent the rest of the afternoon doing the splits and showcasing the remarkable athleticism Kings fans have grown to love.
"He’s one of the best, if not the best, goalie in the league," said Tyler Toffoli, who scored two goals for the Kings. "He stood on his head and made some big saves when we need them."
Quick won a career-best 40 games last season to become a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time. When healthy, he has been the Kings’ starting goalie since December 2008, becoming the franchise’s career leader in victories in March 2014.
Quick’s injury was the second significant groin problem of his career, and the Kings decided on patient rehabilitation instead of surgery. After an unspecified non-surgical procedure and many weeks of rest, Quick had been skating with the Kings for several weeks.
But Quick didn’t make any warmup starts in the minors, and the Kings only announced his return by activating him from injured reserve 40 minutes before the opening faceoff in their afternoon Freeway Faceoff rivalry game against Anaheim.
"We’ve tested it in practices," Quick said. "They wouldn’t have given me the green light if we didn’t try out everything in practice, so I was completely comfortable with that. With the injury, I had no issues at all. It was just more of not playing a game in 4 1/2 months, whatever it was. You’re trying to make decisions and get a routine going and get a rhythm out there, try to help the team win."
Quick’s absence hasn’t been the low-scoring Kings’ biggest problem. Budaj filled in exceptionally well, going 27-20-3 with seven shutouts, a 2.12 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 53 games — all comparable numbers to Quick’s statistics last season.
But Budaj doesn’t have Quick’s risk-taking flair, or his championship credentials. Although Quick praises his backup’s work, he was determined to get back in time to contribute to another playoff push and a shot at a third Stanley Cup title.
"I got to spend a little more time with the family," Quick said. "But at the same time, you feel like something is missing, so it’s good to be back."