The Darryl Sutter show didn’t disappoint on the eve of what may be the veteran coach’s second chance to raise the Stanley Cup.
Long known for his prickliness and peculiar mannerisms with the media, the Los Angeles Kings bench boss has even inspired his own Hockey Night in Canada montage of quirky highlights from his pressers in these playoffs.
But Tuesday was different.
Sutter wasn’t cantankerous. He was rather cheery. And he carried on for a solid 10 minutes on all sorts of subjects, with the main one being one of his favourites.
“Most players, coaches, trainers never get any chance. Zero,” Sutter said of playing for the Stanley Cup, which will be at Madison Square Garden for Wednesday’s Game 4. “So when you get the opportunity – and I’ve been fortunate to be in quite a few of them – it’s always a testament to the group you have and to understand how tough it is.”
Sutter knows because he’s been through so many of these playoff battles. He skated in eight postseasons as a player in Chicago, and has been behind the bench as an assistant or a head coach for 16 more.
Half the time, as the odds dictate, he was out in the first round.
Twice, his teams made the final and lost.
Winning didn’t come until two years ago, when he was 53 years old, as the Kings finally broke through unexpectedly as an eighth seed, and Sutter gained that understanding he talks about.
He realizes that few get to win one Cup, let alone two – especially in an era of parity with 30 teams, short shelf-lives for coaches and a salary cap that tears good teams apart more often than not.
Then again, here’s a team that may be an exception.
If the Kings win on Wednesday in a sweep of the New York Rangers, they will have played 63 playoff games in the past three years, and won 41 of them, remarkable totals compared to almost any team in recent memory.
Winning two Cups in three years would be impressive enough. But if you include the Kings’ trip to the conference finals last season, it puts them into some heady territory with a few exceptional teams.
The only franchise to have had that kind of a three-year run in the last 14 years has been the Detroit Red Wings, who won 41 playoff games (and one Cup) between 2007 and 2009, at the tail end of their four-titles-in-11-years span.
Only three teams, total, had won 40-plus playoff games in that short a time frame since the NHL went to four rounds of best-of-seven back in 1987: Detroit did it twice and the Ken Hitchcock-led Dallas Stars managed it once (1998 to 2000).
Now the Kings have joined them.
For years, it appeared the NHL was headed for a run of one-and-done champions, where a different team would win the Cup every year. Before the Chicago Blackhawks won for the second time in four years last spring, there had been a stretch of nine seasons with different winners, including Carolina, Tampa and Anaheim.
These Kings, however, could be different. This is a team in great shape under the salary cap, with enough youth to stay below the league average age and one of the smartest front offices going.
The Western Conference will be a bear pit for years to come, but it’s not hard to envision L.A. and Chicago taking turns beating up on the winner in the East for at least another few seasons, adding to their hardware.
“They’re a really good team,” Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist said of the Kings on Tuesday. “They’re the best team we played so far. If we don’t play our absolute best, we’re not going to beat them.”
Even then, it'll be tough.
It’s awfully early in the conversation for the D-word – dynasty – to be raised, but you can see the foundations for that in this Kings team. Put in the proper context of the level of parity in the league, what they’ve accomplished already is hard to believe.
Even if it ends here, with a second Cup, few franchises will ever match this kind of three-season run, with an average of nearly 14 playoff wins a year.
It may not get as widely recognized as such given the D-word demands multiple titles in quick succession, but what these Kings have done is pretty special.
Especially if it keeps going.
“We live for these types of moments,” explained Drew Doughty, who has now played more playoff games (74) by age 24 than almost any other defenceman in league history. “Yeah, this team, we’re a great team, but we’re not finished what we have to do yet.
"We need to continue this as long as we possibly can. We have the right guys on this team, the right players. We have the possibility to go deep for many years to come.”
Sutter sees that, too. One of his reminisces with the media on Tuesday was about when he was hired in 2011, and how, originally, he had said no to general manager Dean Lombardi.
Sutter hadn’t been behind the bench in a while, and things hadn’t ended well in Calgary as a GM. But what coaxed him back was the potential to win, something the Flames came up just short of in 2004.
He doesn’t intend on taking the second chance any more lightly than the first, lest it never come again.
“Until you’ve won it, you don’t really understand what that is,” Sutter said of the Cup. “When you lose [in the final], you’re pretty close to understanding it.”
Right now, the Rangers look and sound like a beaten team. They know – many for the first time – what it’s like to get so painfully close and watch a Cup dream start to slip away.
The Kings have a different perspective. Like their coach, they understand how tough it is to get here, but they know how it feels to win, too.
And they're ready.
Teams with 39+ playoff wins in a three-year span
(since playoff format change in 1987)
Los Angeles: 63 GP, 40* wins (2012 to 2014)
Detroit: 63 GP, 41 wins (2007 to 2009)
Dallas: 63 GP, 40 wins (1998 to 2000)
Detroit: 61 GP, 42 wins (1996 to 1998)
Pittsburgh: 57 GP, 39 wins (1991 to 1993)
*- depending on result of Game 4