Kings Coach Darryl Sutter and captain Dustin Brown head back to the locker… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Maybe it's a life shaped by growing up on the farm — governed by planting and feeding — but Kings Coach Darryl Sutter often examines the playing schedule with near-obsessive precision, planning and adjusting.
Especially now that their leisurely sports schedule — just two games in 12 days for the Kings — will seriously crank up. The Kings returned home in the early morning hours Sunday after defeating the New Jersey Devils, 2-1, in overtime to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final.
Game 3 is Monday at Staples Center, with a 5 p.m. start, which is the quickest turnaround time in the series. It was something that had concerned Sutter as soon as the schedule came out, but in the end, it seemed to work out. The Kings got out of Dodge — well, Newark, N.J. — quickly and efficiently, and reassembled at their training facility for treatment and media obligations.
Sutter is not shy about voicing annoyance about scheduling— having said "that's illegal," referring to back-to-back games at Edmonton and at Minnesota in March. The Kings, of course, are more used to dealing with a heavy travel schedule than the Devils, who played all three series in the Eastern time zone and were able to essentially commute in the last round against the Rangers.
"Because you're used to it a little bit during the season, I still think it was better to get them home," Sutter said. "Most of the guys get a couple hours sleep on the plane. A lot of the guys didn't have to come in today. They get up midmorning, good to go I think."
Much of the focus Sunday was on the Staples homecoming, where the Kings could win their first Stanley Cup in 45 seasons, with two more victories. Wayne Gretzky, who was part of the 1993 team that lost the Final in five games to the Montreal Canadiens, plans to be in attendance and may even drop the ceremonial first puck.
"That's so far away," said Kings center Mike Richards of the Stanley Cup. "We know the Devils are going to improve and we have to improve. We have to do that and carry the energy that's going to be at Staples Center because it's probably one of the loudest rinks I've ever played in.
"It's going to be exciting. I think everybody here is excited even though we got in late last night. You could still feel the energy around the building and the dressing room."
The Devils have trailed at some point in every playoff series they have played this spring, so Coach Peter DeBoer downplayed all the doom and gloom, as well as the numbers.
"I know you guys are going to spout out stats, that it's an impossible mountain to climb," he said Sunday. "We heard the same thing when we were down to Florida 3-2 after Game 5. But that stuff's irrelevant. We really believe we can win a game tomorrow night. If we do, we think it's a different series."
The only two Kings' losses in the playoffs came in elimination games — Game 4 against Vancouver and Game 4 in the Western Conference final versus the Coyotes. Sutter wasn't about to get too worked up about their 14-2 run in the playoffs, one of the most successful since the league went to a full best-of-seven format for every round, citing his experience with the 1992 Chicago Blackhawks.
That year, the Blackhawks got through the Western Conference playoffs with ease, only to run into a Pittsburgh Penguins team featuring Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Joe Mullen, among others. The Penguins won in four games. After previously losing twice in the Stanley Cup Final, Sutter is taking nothing for granted.
"We won 11 in a row to go to the Stanley Cup Final in Chicago," said Sutter. "The team that beat us, they won 11 in a row. I think that's hallowed ground. That's pretty unbelievable what Pittsburgh did that year when you look at it in that light."
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, making a persuasive case for himself as a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, has had a strong series thus far. Usually, when the race is so close among a number of possible Kings' players, the deciding factor is play in the final.
So far, Doughty and Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick are two for two.
Doughty scored on a near end-to-end rush in Game 2, notable for his dazzling skill and his passionate celebration. Kings' front-office executive Jack Ferreira noted Doughty will score a goal in practice and exude the same sort of joy.
"I'm having a lot of fun right now," Doughty said Sunday. "I know in order for our team to be successful, I got to be the best defenseman on the ice every night. Even though I kind of put that pressure on myself, I'm having fun. I think that's when I'm at my best. I'm enjoying coming to the rink every day, being in this moment in the spotlight in the Stanley Cup Final."