In 2004, Darryl Sutter led the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup Final. It was a magical run for the sixth-seeded Flames, who took down rival Vancouver in the first round before beating Detroit and San Jose in six games each to make the Final. Yes, Calgary lost to Tampa Bay, but the team came out of practically nowhere to make it that far.
Eight years later, Sutter is spear-heading what could be yet another legendary playoff run by a low-seed in the Western Conference.
Sutter's Los Angeles Kings are two wins away from the Western Conference Final after a 5-2 lambasting of the St. Louis Blues Monday night. The Kings host the next two games in the series, starting Thursday night, and are making what is believed to be their first-ever NBC national television appearance on Sunday in Game 4.
It's an impressive turnaround for a Los Angeles team that looked to be a sure bet to miss the playoffs back in December. Sutter inherited a talented team from Terry Murray, but the Kings were struggling to score enough goals to win games. With Jonathan Quick in goal, that's saying something, because it usually doesn't make many goals to win.
Sutter's 2003-04 Flames team started poorly. Looking like it would sink without a No. 1 goalie because of injury problems involving Roman Turek, Sutter (who doubled as general manager in addition to his coaching duties) made a deal for San Jose goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
"Kipper" quickly became a star in Calgary. That star would never shine brighter than it did in the 2004 playoffs.
While the two teams aren't totally similar (Quick was already established as one of the league's best before Sutter arrived on the scene), Sutter is not the only trait they share. When it mattered most, Flames captain Jarome Iginla was at his best, leading the team in playoff scoring and chipping in a ton of big goals throughout the spring.
Similarly, Kings captain Dustin Brown has elevated his game in this year's tournament so far, with four goals, nine points and a plus-eight rating in seven games. He has two of the Kings' four short-handed goals, and he made the play to set up Anze Kopitar's shortie in Monday's win over the Blues.
Kopitar has played very well so far, as have Mike Richards and Dustin Penner. Richards was a beast in the Vancouver series, matched up a lot against Ryan Kesler, and he scored the first goal just 31 seconds into Monday's win. Penner had seven goals and 17 points in 65 regular season games, but he has two goals and six points in seven playoff games.
The 2004 Flames got contributions from unexpected sources like Marcus Nilson (11 points), Martin Gelinas (eight goals), Shean Donovan (five goals), and Chris Simon (five goals). Their best players -- Iginla, Craig Conroy and Kiprusoff -- were still their best players, but you can't get by in the postseason without contributions from role players. Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr ate huge minutes on the blue line, just like Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell are doing now for the Kings.
The styles of play are comparable. Sutter's teams typically work very hard and play a physical brand of hockey that sometimes tows the line. When things are going well, they won't often get beat off the rush because they will backcheck and hustle after the puck in their own zone. The 2004 Flames and 2012 Kings are similar in that regard. While the 2004 Flames benefited in a way from the dead puck era, the Kings are getting by with stronger positional play and Quick in goal (.952 save percentage in seven games).
Sutter obviously hopes that his Kings can get him one more win than his Flames did. Calgary lost in Game 7 of the Final to Tampa Bay.
The rest of us hope that the offseason doesn't bring what it brought the last time Sutter got a team this far in the postseason tournament. After all, we all remember what happened before the 2004-05 season could ever get started. No matter what the Kings end up accomplishing this spring, that piece of history better not repeat itself.