EL SEGUNDO -- As the Kings gathered for a meeting in their downtown hotel Wednesday night, the eve of Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues at Staples Center, someone in the room mentioned the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers were headed to overtime in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
From the group came this slip of the tongue.
“Was it tied?’ ” coach Darryl Sutter recalled Friday morning.
Of course, the question didn’t draw an answer, but rather a burst of laughter, something that was repeated when Sutter retold the story following the 4-2 victory the night before, giving the Kings a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“That was awesome,” Sutter said of the spontaneous humor, which broke up the otherwise serious business of trying to advance to the Western Conference finals for the just the second time in franchise history.
The Kings can get there with a victory Sunday at noon in Game 4 at Staples Center.
Sutter has been at the controls since just before Christmas, taking over for Terry Murray, who set the formula in place but was unable to stir the drink. Sutter has definitely brought his own motivational tools. A dry humor just happens to be one of them.
“He pushes the right buttons,” said team captain Dustin Brown. “One problem we had as a team before he got here was getting emotionally attached to games. He brought that emotional level up. You can do all the Xs and Os right, but if you’re not emotionally attached, it’s real hard to win in this league.”
Brown said Sutter accomplishes that by grinding players to get better everyday, but also knowing when to pat them on the back.
It doesn’t hurt to interject a light-hearted moment along the way.
There was the April Fools joke he pulled on the Kings the day after they returned from a four-game road trip, one that all but clinched their third consecutive playoff berth. As they departed the plane, they were handed a long itinerary for the next day, a Sunday. The last item on the agenda was a meeting at Sutter’s house in the South Bay.
“Drew [Doughty] asked for his address,” Brown remembered.
Doughty, the 22-year-old defenseman who was nominated for the Norris Trophy two years ago following his stellar sophomore season in the NHL, has felt the wrath of Sutter, but also experienced the warmth.
“He’s great on both ends,” Doughty said. “He likes to have fun at the right times, but for the most part he’s serious and wants you well prepared.”
Doughty talked about Game 4 of the first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, the only game the Kings have lost in these playoffs. He stepped into a side room during one of the intermissions to grab drink, noticed something on a television screen and paused to watch.
Sutter walked into the room right then and spotted Doughty eyeing the TV screen. He scolded him like a teenager caught raiding the refrigerator in the middle of the night.
“I make sure not to go in there anymore,” Doughty said of the side room.
On more than one occasion, Doughty said he has been in conversation with Sutter and didn’t know whether he was joking or not.
“I kind of wait for him to smile . . . after he says whatever he has to say,” Doughty said. “I don’t want to be laughing when he’s serious.”
There was definitely a getting-to-know-you period with Sutter, who had been out of coaching for 5 ½ years when he got the call from Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, asking if he’d like to team up again. They had worked together in San Jose a decade earlier.
Sutter’s low, mumbling speech pattern was the first characteristic the players struggled to decipher.
“I couldn’t understand anything he was saying when he first came,” Doughty said. “I always made sure, when drills were happening, to be at the back of the line.”
The Kings have gotten over that hump and learned to understand, appreciate and respect what Sutter has to offer. It’s a marriage that couldn’t have come together at a better time.
And who knows, the honeymoon might just last a few more weeks.