As Darryl Sutter tells it he was in the barn on his 3,000-acre farm in Canada, not long after he had finished shoveling manure, when Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi called on a cold Alberta day in December 2011 and offered him the team's coaching job.
Did he consider saying no?
"Yup," Sutter said Tuesday. "That was the first thing I said."
It took him quite a while to change his mind, he said, but he was ultimately swayed by the potential of the team Lombardi had built and then-coach Terry Murray had nurtured with a defense-first philosophy.
"I think being convinced that your team had a chance or you could put the team in a position to win a championship," Sutter said of his reason for accepting the role.
Lombardi remembers it slightly differently, that the week's delay between his first contact with Sutter and announcing the hiring was related to timing and Sutter's family obligations. No matter. The point is that Sutter said yes, a decision that changed the franchise's fortunes and now has the Kings — who went their first 45 years without winning the Stanley Cup — within one victory of their second Cup championship in three seasons.
If Sutter had not taken the job, if he had not given the Kings the confidence, emotion and gut-level guidance the hard-working, but limited, Murray couldn't provide, they wouldn't have won the Cup in 2012; they wouldn't have become immersed in his calm demeanor and tireless work ethic, which got them to the Western Conference finals last season with a battered team and served them so well through the three dramatic, seven-game series to reach the Cup Final this spring.
Those same strengths, which Sutter masks with a sometimes abrupt and often sarcastic public manner, were the foundation of the Kings' victories over the New York Rangers in the first three games of the Final. They can claim the Cup again Wednesday, exactly two years after they were first crowned champions.
"You know, I think we see a different side of Darryl than you guys do. He's good," defenseman Matt Greene said Tuesday.
"All the coaches do a good job of keeping us focused on the task at hand. If you had a good game the night before, that's over and done with. 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 they do a good job of that for us."
By consistently remaining true to himself, Sutter has stayed loyal to his players. They have returned that faith with unwavering selflessness.
"I think with Darryl, you probably all realize this, it's mostly all business. There's not much toying around, playing around," right wing Justin Williams said.
"Although we have a young team, we have a pretty veteran team. We've been through a lot together. 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."
Getting the better of Sutter and the Kings hasn't been easy.
The San Jose Sharks thought they had done it when they won the first three games of the teams' first-round series, but the Kings became only the fourth NHL team to rally from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series. Never a doubt about it, according to Sutter.
"I recall our mood the third period of Game 1 when we put Martin Jones in, we could see we're not a team somebody says, 'Go away,' and we go away. We're a team that's going to respond," he said of sending the team's backup goaltender in to replace Jonathan Quick in the opener.
"Doesn't mean you're always going to win, but you're going to respond. The other team is going to know they played you. I saw that in period one of Game 3. We knew we were winning the series; it just took a little bit longer."
Sutter stopped short of saying the same about the Final. So did his players. But it's clear that he — and they — are aware of the opportunity in front of them.
"We live for the playoffs. We live for these type of moments," Doughty said. "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."
And none of it would have happened if Sutter had said no and meant it.
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