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Former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau knows playoffs are where reputations are made
CHICAGO — Just after 9 a.m. outside the visitors’ locker room at United Center, “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen played as the Anaheim Ducks‘ equipment managers sharpened skates for the morning skate. Nearby, coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff prepared for their upcoming game against the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks.
If there’s one thing Boudreau does well, it’s prepare his players for games.
“The amount of time that he puts into meetings and preparing for games and stuff like that is way beyond anything that we do,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “It’s comforting to know that he’s well-prepared and he’s going to have us prepared, and it’s up to us.”
Now years and thousands of miles removed from his glory days with the Washington Capitals, all Boudreau can do sometimes is prepare and hope. He has Anaheim in the playoffs in his second year behind the bench, but he knows a regular-season turnaround like the one he helmed in Washington isn’t enough.
After four trips to the playoffs with the Caps and just as many disappointing exits, Boudreau doesn’t want to be remembered as a coach whose teams choke when it matters most.
“You know what, I feel that there is a little bit of pressure because I don’t want to get a reputation and keep that reputation,” he said. “I’d be foolish not to think that. That would eat at me.”
As someone who won a championship in the American Hockey League and ECHL and captured the Jack Adams Award at the NHL level, it’s not too late. Beginning next week, Boudreau will embark on another playoff opportunity with the Ducks, another one fraught with expectations.
“You get measured on what you do in the playoffs more than anything,” said Ducks assistant Bob Woods, who followed Boudreau from Washington. “You’ve got to have a good regular season to get into the dance, but it’s usually what you do afterwards. I think we’ve been trying to prepare them for that all year long.”
This Ducks team has parallels to those Boudreau coached with the Caps. There are two dynamic stars in Getzlaf and Corey Perry, just like he had in Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. And Anaheim has some of that old Boudreau magic in the form of 11 comeback victories.
“He’s a hockey nut; he loves hockey and he works harder than anyone, ever,” Getzlaf said. “He makes sure you’re prepared and that’s the fact that he does want to win and he’s willing to do whatever that takes, whether it’s getting up at 6 in the morning and watching video all morning and finding something little that’s going to help our group.”
But at age 58, Boudreau hopes to have learned from his time with the Caps, when he had the best regular-season winning percentage but little to show for it in the postseason. He can remember specific moments that led to each crushing playoff exit, from Semyon Varlamov’s fatigue versus Pittsburgh in 2009 and a power-play outage versus Montreal in 2010 to defensive injuries that took their toll versus Tampa Bay in 2011.
But it was sitting on the tarmac in Montreal after Game 4 of the Caps’ first-round series against the Canadiens three years ago that changed Boudreau’s philosophy forever. Up three games to one, the Caps didn’t get home until 7:30 a.m. the next day and wound up losing the series. He told his players to take the day off, and they never recovered.
“The one thing I’ve changed here is no matter what time we get in, if there’s a scheduled practice, we’re practicing,” Boudreau said. “That’s probably the biggest difference that has eaten me up there.”
That one decision did not cost the Caps against Montreal, but Boudreau knows one little thing can make all the difference. When defenseman Scott Hannan went off the ice on a poorly timed change in overtime of Game 3 against the Lightning in 2011, Vincent Lecavalier scored, and the series was essentially over.
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