April 18, 2012 2:40 pm

Sutter knows close-out games aren’t easy

When Darryl Sutter talks about the final game of a series being the toughest to win, he’s not just being a curmudgeon coach. The numbers bear it out. Last season, teams had a 6-9 record in the first “close-out’’ game of a series, meaning only six times, in 15 chances, did a team close out a series in its first opportunity. In 2010, that record was 7-8. It makes sense. The trailing team, with its season on the line, will give everything possible to keep the series going. Darryl Sutter, who has been a part of the NHL playoffs for 19 years as a player or head coach, knows this, but many of his top young players have never been in a position to close out an NHL playoff series. What is the message to them?

SUTTER: “The best way to approach it always with those guys — always — is to have fun with it. If you’re playing against top players, then have some fun with it, instead of `I don’t know.’ That’s the best way.’’

Question: When you’re in these “close-out’’ games, is there anything tangible that changes, or is it just more intense all around?

SUTTER: “What is tangible — and this is a fact — is, as series go along, how difficult it is to win games. That is what’s tangible. There’s no easy parts, or easy seconds, or easy shifts or any of that. It’s really simple. One is tougher to win than not winning at all. Two is a lot tougher to win than one and three is a lot tougher to win than two. Then there is no winning until you win four. Everything else, it’s just time. … It’s very difficult. The only way you can get that experience is to understand how difficult it is, and then actually end up doing it.’’

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