This might as well be The Ken Hitchcock Show.

The coach of the Dallas Stars is articulate, funny and insightful. He carries on at his news conferences as if he were holding court at a backyard barbecue.

This is the first Stanley Cup finals for the 47-year-old Captain Kangaroo look-alike, but who would know it from looking at him? Hitchcock was smiling so much the day after losing Game 1 to the Buffalo Sabres he was asked why he was so happy.

"You guys got to go to work after this," Hitchcock told reporters after a team meeting. "I'm going for coffee. I'm done."

Hitchcock isn't putting on an act now that he's in the spotlight. This is how he is. He says he sticks with this approach on the advice of many who have been there before.

"I was told by a lot of coaches that you're so consumed by wins and losses your whole career, that when you get to this stage you've got to look around and enjoy what's happening," he said. "Just because you have a good team doesn't mean you're going to be here again."

The series was tied at two games each going into Game 5 later tonight.

On Wednesday, Hitchcock joked about his wife being angry with him for his televised reaction to a Buffalo goal in a Game 4 loss. He also teased a reporter who asked about possible lineup changes.

"Come back to me at 10:30 tomorrow night. I'll let you know then," he said.

He drew another laugh when a question about Dallas's lack of scoring implied that the defensive-minded Hitchcock might open things up.

"I was calling for more offense?" he said with emphasis on the "I," his head cocked to the side and eyebrows raised.

Hitchcock deserves to get as much out of this series as he can, considering all he went through to get here.

His father died when he was 14, a girlfriend when he was 15 and his mother when he was 20. An eating problem developed and he went from a big kid who was good at hockey and a scratch golfer to a 350-pound guy with little direction in life.

Hitchcock eventually ballooned to nearly 480 pounds, delaying his arrival in the NHL because teams feared players wouldn't respect a coach who couldn't discipline himself. He's now around 240.

Coaching came by accident. He was 22 and selling sporting goods six days a week in his hometown of Edmonton when he volunteered to be team manager in a midget league. The coach quit with 15 games left and he was stuck with the job.

He's been a head coach for 22 seasons since then and his midget, juniors, IHL and NHL teams have made the playoffs 21 times. The only exception was his first half-season in Dallas, when he inherited a team at the bottom of its division.

In his first full season, 1996-97, the Stars went worst-to-first. They have won the Presidents' Trophy for the top regular season record the last two years.

Dallas was swept by Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs in 1997, then lost to eventual Cup-winner Detroit in the conference finals last year.

Brett Hull was brought in this season to provide the extra offense the Stars felt they were missing. But there was a catch: he'd have to learn to play with Hitchcock's defense-first mindset.

It wasn't always smooth, but Hull -- who is notorious for doing things his way -- adapted.

Then again, anyone who plays for Hitchcock has no choice but to follow his orders.

That's right, the genial, relaxed guy the public sees is a tough, demanding boss who pushes his players hard but also gets the most out of them.

Sometimes, that means Hitchcock uses strategies plucked from the pages of Civil War books. (Although Canadian, Hitchcock is such a Civil War buff he participates in reenactments.)

For example, late in the regular season the Stars were going through a tough stretch with little time off. The oldest team in the league was begging for a break, but instead he made them all practice.

The point? Bonding the players, even if it meant uniting them in anger toward him. In the playoffs, however, he's kept his players off the ice between most games to keep their legs fresh.

Hitchcock's style occasionally has led to some speculation that the team would implode because his players were ready to revolt. In the locker room, everyone knew better.

"He's gotten guys to buy into the system," said defenseman Craig Ludwig, who has seen plenty of coaches and styles come and go during his 17 seasons. "That's what impresses me -- no matter how much they complain, they still go out and do it."

CAPTION: Defensive-minded Ken Hitchcock has coached Stars to NHL's best regular season record each of the past two years.