Soon after the Kings' chartered plane pointed its nose westward from Chicago, scene of their season-ending loss to the Blackhawks on Saturday in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, Coach Darryl Sutter began getting ready to open training camp on Sept. 11.

Leaving others to analyze why the team's Stanley Cup reign has ended, Sutter has turned to preparing for what the Kings might accomplish next season if their promising kids get stronger and fitter and everyone is healthy.

"I started doing it on the plane ride home the other night," he said Monday. "There was no, what do you call it, decompress? No. That's not the way it was."

Decompress? Sutter?

Not likely.

He's often crusty and cantankerous, and those who try to extract injury information from him during the playoffs do so at their peril.

But judge him by deeds, not by words, and it's clear he did as good a job this year to get the injury-ravaged, suddenly low-scoring Kings to the West finals as he did in guiding them to the Cup a year ago, when everything clicked and the lineup was consistently healthy and deep.

General Manager Dean Lombardi, who had the same role in San Jose when Sutter coached there, had thought Sutter's finest coaching feat was getting the Sharks to the playoffs for a second straight season while facing new and heightened expectations. Lombardi has revised his opinion.

"Take that premise — expectations and everything — and multiply it times whatever after winning a Cup. The stakes are a lot higher," Lombardi said. "This was a new experience for all of us. Now having been through it and what we went through this year and seeing what they did as a coaching staff and as a team, that's way tougher than getting in the playoffs a second year. . . .

"I think it's the finest coaching job he's done."