When Darryl Sutter took over as coach of the Los Angeles Kings in December, the team many considered a lock to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs was fourth in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference.
Before Sutter began to turn things around, the Kings were 30th in the League in in goals per game, 30th in 5-on-5 scoring and 23rd on the power play. While All-Star goalie Jonathan Quick is good, he couldn't be relied upon night in and night out. But under Sutter's leadership, the club Kings made gradual offensive improvements, helping them go 25-13-10 under Sutter.
Reaching the playoffs is nothing new to Sutter, who had done it 10 times in 11 previous seasons as a coach in Chicago, San Jose and Calgary. He even helped the Flames to a Stanley Cup Final berth in 2004 and sports a 47-54 record in the postseason.
Center - LAK
GOALS: 25 | ASST: 51 | PTS: 76
SOG: 230 | +/-: 13
In addition to Sutter's ability to motivate his charges, here are six other reasons why the Kings are headed back to the postseason.
1. King Kopitar: Kings center Anze Kopitar, who missed the final seven games of the regular season and all six playoff games last season after suffering a serious ankle injury, has played in every game in 2011-12 and leads the club in goals, assists and points. Kopitar is chomping at the bit to get another chance in the postseason -- he has 2 goals and 5 points in six playoff games in five previous seasons with the Kings.
2. Lightning Quick glove: Goalie Jonathan Quick wasn't voted the team's most valuable player, the team's best defensive player and the team's most inspirational player based on charm and good looks. The reality is that without Quick, the Kings are not in the position they are 81 games into the regular season. Quick established a single-season team record for shutouts, and 23 of his 33 losses this season have been by one goal. He's allowed two goals or fewer 46 times this season and is 23-11-8 in his last 42 games. He's one of the favorites to win the Vezina Trophy.
3. Road scholars: In addition to winning 22 home games, the Kings also have had success on the road, going 18-13-9. Their winning percentage on the road is third highest in the Western
Goalie - LAK
GAA: 1.93 | SVP: 0.929
Conference, behind only Vancouver and Nashville. With their success away from home, Los Angeles is capable of stealing a few games in the playoffs.
4. PK specialists: The Kings ranked fourth in the League on the penalty kill this season with an 87.2-percent efficiency. The team's 86.3-percent rating on home ice ranked fourth and its 88.1-percent efficiency on the road was third. The team also scored nine shorthanded goals, with center Mike Richards leading the way with four.
5. Another "King" in the making: Rookie left wing Dwight King quietly has had a fine season after being called up from Manchester of the AHL in mid-February following an injury to center Jarret Stoll. He seems to have thrived on the team's second line with Richards, totaling 5 goals, 14 points and a plus-4 rating in 26 games since his promotion.
6. Captain courageous:Dustin Brown will have played in every regular season game for the third straight season when his club visits San Jose in the regular-season finale Saturday. He once again proved to be a valuable force not only on offense, but from a physical standpoint. Brown had 20-plus goals and 50-plus points for the fifth straight season, again led the team in hits and was among the top five on the team in takeaways.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale