NEWARK, N.J. -- Hidden behind all the pretty saves, remarkable agility and unwavering competitiveness, Los Angeles Kings goalkeeper Jonathan Quick has a major weakness that occasionally rears its ugly head.
He handles the puck like it's a hot potato.
That flaw took center stage Saturday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. After the Kings dominated the first half of the opening period, Quick turned the puck over behind his net, leading to a power-play goal by New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise.
That play swung the momentum back to the Devils in their 2-1 victory at Prudential Center, the second straight game in which the Kings failed to clinch their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The seat belts on the plane ride back to L.A. will surely feel tighter as the Kings head toward Game 6 on Monday night at Staples Center.
"It doesn't matter where you lose, home or away, you lost the game," Quick said. "We're going to refocus, same as when we won in Jersey last week. It's in the past; you move forward."
Undoubtedly, it will take more than a day for Quick to get a better grip on his puck control. A strong candidate to win the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie during the regular season and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the league's most valuable player in the postseason, Quick has been victimized a number of times in his NHL career for unwise decisions or just poor stickwork away from his crease.
With the Devils on a power play just past the halfway point of the first period, Quick came out to play the puck as it slid harmlessly his way. With plenty of room to work and enough open ice to play the puck forward, he elected to turn and sweep it off the end boards toward defenseman Drew Doughty on the opposite side.
He didn't pass the puck where he aimed, and it banked into the back of the net, where Parise was able to swoop in and beat Doughty to the inside. Parise dragged the puck back out to the left post and shoved it across the goal line before Quick could get back into position.
"I didn't put the puck where I wanted to, and Parise got it and put it in the net," Quick said.
He didn't offer any more explanation than that. The play looked like it could end up as a moot point after Justin Williams tied the score in the opening minutes of the second period, but Quick was again victimized by a deflection in front of the net.
About five minutes after Williams tied the score, New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador took a shot from the left point with rookie right wing Jordan Nolan between Salvador and the goal. Kings rookie defenseman Slava Voynov and Devils forward David Clarkson were also battling for position in front of Quick. Nolan flinched as Salvador faked a shot, turning him sideways and giving Salvador just enough room to get the puck through. Voynov and Clarkson then separated as the puck sailed toward the goal. The shot glanced off Voynov and was redirected past Quick's left shoulder.
"The shot was going a little wide, and it hit something and ended up in the back of the net," Quick said.
Only one of six goals scored on Quick in this series has beaten him cleanly. Voynov also had a puck carom off him in Game 1, leading to the tying goal in a game eventually won by the Kings in overtime.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn't have anything negative to say about Quick or Voynov but thought Nolan could have done a better job of getting in front of Salvador's "soft wrister." Sutter was aware Nolan was at the end of a long shift and had heavy legs.
"He was tired," he said. "I'm sure if Jonathan would have known that, he would have got a whistle. Puck comes around this side, winger's got to go through the shot."
As he has all season, win or lose, Quick remained stoic as he sat in front of his locker. He refused to let the loss get him down, just as he never showed any excitement when the Kings took a 3-0 series lead. He held his palm out in front of him, then lowered it and raised it as he described his frame of mind.
"You stay right here," he said. "You don't get here, you don't get there. ... Same as when we won three in a row, four in a row. We're going to come out and try to win one game, same way."
Regardless of his weakness in handling the puck, the Kings will need their best player this season to be at his best in Game 6. If not, they could find themselves back in New Jersey for Game 7.