Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell sported a wide grin before offering two words when asked earlier this week what separates coach Darryl Sutter from other coaches.
"Intense dude," he said, shaking his head for emphasis.
"He wants everyone to get the proper focus; that's the biggest thing," Mitchell added. "You're always prepared. He's a master motivator, knows when to push the buttons and how to push the buttons. Sometimes you don't like it, but look at his track record … it works."
It sure does.
For the second time in three seasons, there was Sutter, raising the Stanley Cup above his head, a rare smile crossing his face as the fans gave him a rousing ovation. His Kings had just earned a 3-2 double-overtime victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center in Los Angeles to win the best-of-7 series in five games against the New York Rangers on Friday.
This postseason, Sutter led his team to three straight Game 7 road victories, against the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
When the team rallied from a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks, center Jeff Carter said there really wasn't anything different in Sutter's approach.
"I think all playoffs, no matter what situation we've been in, with the guys we have in the room, the leadership that we got from our coaching staff, it's never too high, never too low," he said. "Even when we were down three, we were still confident that if we played our game, did what we needed to do, that we could battle back and we could still win that series."
Sutter passed Scotty Bowman and Pat Burns for the most Game 7 wins in NHL history with seven and is 10-1 in the past 11 playoff series dating back to 2012, playing in an NHL-leading 64 postseason games during that span.
"What I learned under [Sutter] was to be prepared to play every night and don't let your game slip because if you let your game slip then you're not going to be happy with his decision," Kings rookie forward Tyler Toffoli said. "That's what keeps me motivated to keep working as hard as I can and keep pushing even when I'm tired."
Kings forward Dwight King knows that under Sutter no one player is more important than the one right next to you.
"He knows when to motivate and when to lay off," King said. "He's an intense guy when it comes to the hockey, but away from hockey he's an easy-going guy. He's very emotional and can judge and gauge the direction of the team pretty easily, which is something only a coach can do and what he does extremely well."
Mitchell indulged a few of the media members on hand by telling the story of Sutter's pregame ritual outside the locker room for most home games at Staples Center.
"He usually shows up two hours before puck drop and he'll be in the hallway in a half squat, leaning side to side, getting ready for the game," Mitchell said. "He's got an intense look on his face, and I'm looking at him like, 'Geez, you got two hours until game time, Coach.' I'm playing in the game and I'm looking at him and he's doing that.
"I guess everyone has that moment when they turn the switch and get that intensity."
Kings forward Justin Williams, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy, said Sutter is all work and, well, not much play.
"I think with Darryl, you probably all realize this, it's mostly all business," he said. "There's not much toying around, playing around. We've been through a lot together. It's a team that I remember Drew [Doughty] saying at the start of playoffs, hates to see another team get the better of them. I think our coach is the exact same way."
Los Angeles defenseman Matt Greene acknowledged that the players see a different side to Sutter than the one shown during pre- and postgame press conferences.
"If you had a good game the night before, that's over and done with," Greene said. "You have to move on. It's the same if you had a bad night. So it's always kind of stay in the moment, you're always looking forward to the next game, and the coaches do a good job of that for us."
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Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer