- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2013

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.

Boudreau hasn’t lost his love of the game, even if he’s no longer the fresh-faced rookie coach who took over for Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving Day 2007.

“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.

Those are “things that happen,” Boudreau concedes. Even considering all the work he puts in, he’s still able to reconcile that bounces play a role in the playoffs.

“I played the game and saw how lucky I got in certain situations,” he said. “When you’re on championship teams, you know that you just don’t go through and win. You do have certain stages of luck.”

In winning the 2006 Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, Boudreau experienced some luck when Getzlaf, then playing for the Portland Pirates, missed an open net in Game 7. Eric Fehr then went down the ice and scored the Cup-winning goal for Hershey.

“Nobody would’ve remembered us if Getzlaf puts it in the net,” he said.

Those breaks weren’t there with the Caps, who couldn’t get past the second round under Boudreau. But that doesn’t mean his former players blame him for those losses.

Instead, defenseman Karl Alzner points to the Ducks’ success as validation.

“It just goes to show that anyone who questioned his coaching ability was wrong,” Alzner said. “Obviously they have good personnel, good players, but last year they weren’t all that good. And he’s managed to turn them around and really get the best out of a lot of those guys. … He’s a good coach and there’s no doubt about it now.”

Actually, plenty of doubt remains. Boudreau’s Ducks are second in the West, but that won’t mean much if they flame out in the playoffs. That’s why Woods said this regular season has been about building experience and composure for seven-game series that await in the near future.

“We prepare much more for playoffs than you do for regular season because you have a lot longer a length of time,” Boudreau said. “You usually have four to six games against that team that you’ve got the records that you go over.”

It has never been an issue of preparation; that’s why Caps defenseman Mike Green expressed confidence that his former coach and mentor will have playoff success. And the Ducks want nothing more than to help him get that.

“He’s a players coach. He makes everybody feel very important,” Anaheim winger Teemu Selanne said. “Everybody just love to play for him. He treats us really well. We try to give him back what he’s looking forward to. It’s a two-way street.”

His former players feel the same way. Alzner said of Boudreau: “That’s a guy that you really feel happy for if you saw him with the Cup. … Bruce has gone a long road.”

Doing so would let Boudreau shake the reputation of being the coach who can’t get it done in the playoffs. But winning a Stanley Cup isn’t as simple as being the better coach or the most prepared.

“He’s a great coach,” Green said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. You’ve got to have good bounces, good luck and things have got to go your way.”

Boudreau knows that all too well.

“I think sometimes there’s not a lot you can do,” he said. “You prepare and you hope that you get the lucky break.”



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