Back in the day, there was a cottage industry ranking Willie Mays’ greatest catches, of which there was a catalogue of dozens. When asked for his opinion on one particular classic against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field, “The Say Hey Kid” famously responded, “I don’t compare ’em; I just catch ’em.”
The Rangers did not sign Jonathan Quick as a free agent last summer to patrol center field. He was, for the first time in a 16-year career that includes two Stanley Cup championships and a spot reserved for his plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame, going to be tasked with being his team’s backup from start to finish.
Few netminding immortals have even attempted to make that transition even on the final holes of the back nine. But after serving as an understudy for Vegas during the final portion of last season after being kicked to the curb by the Kings, Quick was ready for the assignment. More than that: He embraced it.
And the 38-year-old (as of Jan. 21) has been a revelation in nets, posting a 2.36 GAA and .918 save percentage with an 11-4-2 record following his glittering 32-save effort in the Blueshirts’ impressive 2-1 overtime victory over the powerful Avalanche at the Garden on Monday, when Alexis Lafreniere beat Alexandar Georgiev at 1:53 of extra time.
Quick was acrobatic and instinctive. He was technically sound and aggressive, making perhaps his best save of the night on Miko Rantanen’s one-timer from the slot with less than a minute to play in regulation. The netminder kept the Rangers in the match after they’d fallen behind on the incomparable Nathan MacKinnon’s rink-length dash late in the first period, until Artemi Panarin knotted it just part the midway part of the third.
When it was over, when the Blueshirts recorded a victory mindful of those they piled up while racing to an 18-4-1 start, I asked Quick if he would care to rate his work this season in an unfamiliar role.
“You know, I’m not big on rating,” Quick said, echoing Mays’ sentiment, albeit less poetically. “It doesn’t matter what your job is on the team, right?
“You’re aware of it, and you try to make the most of it when you get the opportunity to be there for your team.”
Again. Quick has been there consistently, even when Igor Shesterkin hasn’t been as reliable as projected. There is no goalie controversy on Broadway — repeat after me, there is no goalie controversy on Broadway — but there is comfort in knowing that the No. 2 is a lifelong No. 1 in disguise.
I suggested to Peter Laviolette that the head coach probably doesn’t think to himself that he’s playing the backup when he pencils Quick’s name onto the lineup card.
“I don’t,” said Laviolette. “I would think that, every day that he comes to the rink, he’s preparing to start and play. Not only that, he’s been unbelievable with the guys in the room as a teammate.
“I hadn’t gotten the chance to work with Jonathan except maybe once at a USA event, but you always say when you get to work with somebody over time, you get to appreciate everything they bring to the table. It’s not just what you saw on the ice but what he brings to the locker room.”
The Rangers seemed like they were stuck in mud much of the first period as the speedy Avalanche pushed the pace. Being shorthanded three times within the first 12:53 — once because of an egregious officiating blunder — surely did not help. But the Blueshirts buckled down and were at least able to tilt the rink to level ground as the contest evolved.
They played with the confidence of a first-place team that opened 18-4-1 , with the belief they would be able to think of something if they could keep it close. The battle level remained constant. The pace increased. The Rangers went on attack mode.
“I believe that our confidence has never wavered,” Quick, who had an assist on the winner, told The Post. “We know it’s a long year, and you have to take the good with the bad. Early in the year, everything seemed to be going our way, and we were winning games in all different ways, blowing teams out, winning tight games, coming back from behind.
“That’s not a scenario that lasts over 82 games. We’re aware that, no matter how good you are, you’re going to deal with adversity at some point. We were able to get a win going into the break [against Ottawa on Jan. 27] and got a win here coming right out of the break, so it feels good.”
The Rangers generated little offense through 40 minutes. That has become a pattern, the club now having scored two goals or fewer in eight of its last 11 games. Urgency to bring in a third-line center is no secret.
But the club persevered and dominated territorial advantage in the third period. They tied it when Panarin went the circle route and whipped one through traffic on his second shift doubling with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. They kept going.
So did — and does — Quick.