Ducks coach Boudreau finally gets his playoff redemption
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) While the Anaheim Ducks stormed the ice to celebrate Corey Perry's series-clinching overtime goal, Bruce Boudreau looked up and saw his two sons and his wife, Crystal, hugging and hopping in the frenzied Honda Center stands.
They turned and locked eyes with Boudreau, maniacally pointing at him. So Boudreau pointed back, and unadulterated joy flooded over a face that usually registers only concern when he's at work.
''It was a really cool moment,'' Boudreau said. ''I find when I get excited behind the bench, the team gets too excited and we lose a little bit of our focus, so I tried to stay as focused as I could. But it was a pretty nice win, so I think I'm allowed five minutes of joy.''
The coach and his family were celebrating Anaheim's breakthrough, but also the death of Boudreau's old reputation: In his first six Stanley Cup playoff trips, his teams never got past the second round.
The Ducks are headed to the Western Conference finals, and Boudreau has a team in the NHL's final four for the first time. The hockey lifer's spectacular regular-season success will no longer be overshadowed by his teams' postseason failures - and the story could get even sweeter if the Ducks get past the mighty Chicago Blackhawks.
''The instant it happened, it felt really good, and then half an hour later I forgot about it, and we're starting to think about Chicago,'' Boudreau said. ''I was really glad that I don't have to answer that question anytime soon. In that respect, it's always good. Getting to the final four is a new experience for me, so it's going to be interesting to see how everything goes.''
Boudreau almost won too much during the regular season in Washington and Anaheim, because it made his postseason disappointments even more cutting.
He has won an astonishing seven division titles and a Presidents' Trophy in his eight NHL seasons, leaving Boudreau with the highest points percentage among all active coaches (.664). He was the fastest coach to 200 wins and 300 wins outside the Original Six era.
But he had minimal postseason success and a handful of high-profile flops on his resume before everything changed this spring while the Ducks steamrolled the Pacific Division bracket with eight wins in nine games.
Boudreau doesn't think he magically became a better coach this spring.
''There's an awful lot of great coaches in this world that haven't gotten to the semifinals of the Stanley Cup, or haven't done a lot of things, but they're still great coaches,'' Boudreau said.
Indeed, an example is behind the other bench.
Joel Quenneville's St. Louis Blues made only one conference final despite reaching seven consecutive postseasons, and his Colorado Avalanche never got out of the second round. The Blackhawks made the conference finals in his first season and won his first Cup one year later, in 2010 - Quenneville's 13th NHL season and 12th postseason.
Like Quenneville, Boudreau paid plenty of dues before his breakthrough.
After a playing career as a prolific minor-league scorer who never won a long-term NHL job, Boudreau went into coaching. He rode buses in Muskegon, Fort Wayne, Biloxi, Lowell, Manchester and Hershey, where he won the 2006 AHL Calder Cup.
The Capitals promoted him in November 2007, and the 51-year-old NHL rookie immediately revitalized the franchise, winning four straight Southeast Division titles and the 2010 Presidents' Trophy. Yet his Caps won only two playoff rounds in four years, most memorably going out in the first round five years ago after a 121-point regular season.
He was unemployed for just 48 hours after Washington fired him for a slow start in November 2011, and he swiftly fixed the underachieving Ducks, who nearly rallied into a playoff spot that spring. Anaheim has been one of the NHL's dominant teams ever since, winning three division titles and finishing in the overall top three each season.
But Boudreau had the same agonizing playoff fate, losing a Game 7 to Detroit in 2013 and to Los Angeles in 2014. He took his first significant criticism in Anaheim last spring after benching beloved Teemu Selanne and spinning a three-goalie carousel that ended with overmatched 20-year-old John Gibson getting chased from Game 7 by the future champion Los Angeles Kings.
Now on a new frontier, Boudreau isn't forgetting how he got here.
''I think we've had good teams. I think we've lost for reasons,'' Boudreau said. ''But I try not to let it trickle in, (or) say, `Hey, it's your fault that you're not making it to the fourth round or the third round,' because when you start thinking like that, then you doubt your abilities. I don't want to do that. I think it's the coach's job to not only sound confident, but to look confident, especially (to) your players.''