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Big games haven’t been kind to Bruce Boudreau

May 18, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT

Bruce Boudreau AP

If you were to name the top 10 head coaches in the NHL, Bruce Boudreau would almost certainly factor in somewhere. Still, his lack of deep postseason success probably explains why his name rarely comes up in discussions regarding the absolute elite.

One can only wonder how different things might be if his Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks didn’t lose (and sometimes even totally flop) in Game 7 situations, though. Boudreau is now 1-5 in career playoff Game 7’s and his teams have frequently lost in ways that overshadowed fantastic regular seasons.

He’s been in those situations quite often, too. Boudreau has only avoided a seven-game series in 2010-11 (when the Capitals were swept in the second round) and 2011-12 (when he was fired 22 games into the season by Washington and couldn’t direct the Ducks into the postseason in 58 games).

Other than that, the pattern has been almost disturbing: outstanding regular seasons followed by crushing Game 7 defeats. Let’s take a look back.

Note: To keep things simple, remember that Boudreau’s team won its division in every season but 2011-12.

Washington years

2007-08: Boudreau guides the Capitals to a 37-17-7 record in the 61 games he coached, earning his only Jack Adams Award in the process.

The Philadelphia Flyers beat Washington 3-2 in OT in Game 7 of a first-round series. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin scored the Captials’ two goals in that game, but Joffrey Lupul beat Cristobal Huet for the game-winner in overtime.

2008-09: The Capitals went 50-24-8 for 108 standings points.

The 2009 postseason represents the first (and only) time Boudreau has won a playoff Game 7, as his team dispatched soon-to-be regular playoff opponent the New York Rangers in the first round. The Capitals fought back from 2-0 and 3-1 series deficits to win this series. They beat the Rangers 2-1 with Sergei Fedorov scoring the game-winner.

This set the stage for the memorable seven-game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins/a “Top this” showdown between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The decisive Game 7 was pretty much a bloodbath, though; Marc-Andre Fleury stopped an early Ovechkin chance and the Penguins built a 2-0 lead in the first period. They eventually dominated to a 6-2 win.

2009-10: The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy by eight points with a fantastic 121-point regular season, yet they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in a first-round series that doubled as Jaroslav Halak‘s peak. (Along with Halak helping the Habs beat Pittsburgh in seven games as well in round two.)

Game 7 against Montreal was another hard-luck loss for Washington in that series. Semyon Varlamov allowed two goals on 16 shots while Halak made 41 out of 42 saves. The Canadiens took the series with a 2-1 win in Game 7.

(Oddly enough, the Capitals went to two seven-game series during the 2011-12 season in which they fired Bruce Boudreau after just 22 games. Dale Hunter went 1-1 in those full-length series. In fact, Washington’s last two playoff series have been seven-game losses to the Rangers.)

Anaheim years

2012-13: The venue and conference changed, but the results seemed unsettling in their similarities: another great regular season followed by a tough Game 7 loss (once again in the first round).

The Detroit Red Wings beat the Ducks 3-2 in Game 7 of their first-round series as an Anaheim comeback bid fell short.

2013-14: One cannot help but wonder what would have happened if the Ducks didn’t manage an unlikely third-period turnaround and overtime win in Game 6 against the Dallas Stars. They avoided a seventh game in the first round, but couldn’t do so against the Los Angeles Kings in round two.

You probably remember what happened on Friday, but if not, the Kings cruised to a 6-2 win.

CSNWashington.com’s Ben Raby points out the similarities between the Ducks falling to the Kings and the Capitals losing to the Penguins in respective second-round series:

Anaheim’s Game 7 loss to the Kings had an eerily similar feel as the Capitals’ 2009 Game 7 loss at home against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Consider that in both cases: 1) the home team had an early breakaway from its leading goal-scorer (Alex Ovechkin in 2009; Corey Perry in 2014) but could not convert, 2) Boudreau pulled his rookie starting goalie once the visitors took a 4-0 second period lead (Semyon Varlamov in 2009; John Gibson in 2014) and 3) the home team pulled within 5-1 late in the second frame, before ultimately falling by a 6-2 score.

Boudreau has to hope that his team can break this unsightly pattern sooner rather than later.

  1. norvturnersneck - May 18, 2014 at 10:33 PM

    It’s not like he was playing in that 1st period. It looked like varsity versus a JV squad out there. The Ducks players lied down in the first period and didn’t play like they should have. That’s not all his fault, but he does need to take some blame.

  2. bruceboudreauchokejob - May 18, 2014 at 11:04 PM

    My sentiments exactly

  3. stakex - May 19, 2014 at 12:08 AM

    If it was just this season, I would say that Boudreau wasn’t the problem. That the loss could be blamed on the fact that the players came out tight, and pissed the game away before they found their legs. Its not just this season though…. its every year one of Boudreau’s teams make the playoffs. There is a very noticeable pattern of his teams struggling in the playoff, often against weaker opponents, after having a great regular season.

    What’s strange is that you would think, given how they perform during the regular season, one of his teams would have a good playoff run by accident. So not only does BB seem to be a bad playoff coach, but he’s unlucky as well.

  4. pr0jecktpat - May 19, 2014 at 2:32 AM

    A lot of it seems like luck, but in a lot of these instances the teams have just laid down and given up. The Caps have still had major issues with just not giving near full effort (obvious this season), but a lot of it is personnel. Coaches can only do so much to get players ready for the games, it is up to the players to show up and play. I really like Boudreau, and have said for awhile I don’t think he should have been fired from the Caps, but before his last season with the Caps people were wondering why GMGM was still with the team.

    I wish him all the luck, and it stinks it wasn’t his year again, but the guy has the skill to be elite, he just needs to get over this hump.

  5. gbart22 - May 19, 2014 at 4:32 AM

    He’s never had a game changing goalie to work with to get over that hump. Part of that I think is his own doing in goalie hopping from game to game but who knows he’s a great coach and he’ll win one someday. Still think had Washington not abandoned ship they’d have won one eventually and the same goes for Anaheim of they stay the course it will work out.

  6. flyerspsu - May 19, 2014 at 4:32 AM

    The postseason is really what matters

    a team like the Kings will consistently finish in the middle of the pack in the West but I will always view them higher and consider them better than teams like Anaheim, San Jose, St Louis and Colorado b/c the Kings show up when it matters and get it done, they are built for the playoffs and are able to buckle down when it matters most, Boudreau has never seemed to be able to do that with his teams, to be fair the Capitals have continued to choke every year when it mattered since he left so that might be a reason, but until you see anything different from Boudreau and teams like San Jose and St Louis you cannot put them in that elite company

  7. gbart22 - May 19, 2014 at 4:45 AM

    Friendly reminder before this current run with Chicago quenneville’s teams never won in the playoffs either and neither did Jillian’s teams before the current run in Boston. I used to hear all the time that Julian could never ever win in the playoffs with the way he coaches his teams. Where’d all those big mouth fans go?

    It’s funny listening to so called die hard fans they rail on using tired cliches like toughness and grit and guts and always blame it on coaches and gm’s then if the team somehow manages to win suddenly the same fans will say they have all those cliches and that’s why they are winners. NYR last week in New York on the verge of elimination playing terribly all I read about and heard about on the radio and online was how vigneault stinks the rangers are missing all those things and how great the penguins are and how the rangers weren’t in the same class blah blah blah one week later the rangers win out and magically vigneault is a great coach and the rangers are so tough etc that is unless they lose to the Canadians or in the finals then vigneault will be just unable to win a big game and the rangers will be lacking in grit and toughness again and the king will be more like a prince who just can’t seize the crown.

    Fans and writers are morons. They over react to everything to create headlines that will grab readers and garner attention for themselves. It’s a by-product of living in this twitter instant gratification world and it’s truly unfortunate.

    • esracerx46 - May 19, 2014 at 8:09 AM

      The knock on Quenneville wasn’t that he couldn’t win in the playoffs. It was that he couldn’t win the Cup. He took St. Louis to the conference final once and out of the first round 3 other times. The teams he lost to in 98,99,01,and 02 all eventually went on to win the cup, for whatever that’s worth. In Colorado his teams went to the Second round in 2 of his 3 seasons, losing to the eventual cup winner again in 08.

  8. phxyotes - May 19, 2014 at 6:52 AM

    Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…..

  9. esracerx46 - May 19, 2014 at 7:55 AM

    The only real issue with Boudreau’s coaching has been his selection of goaltenders. I could maybe see going Anderson over Hiller…maybe. When Anderson gets hurt Hiller should by default become the starter. Nope they call up Gibson, who played admirably. And come game 7, we saw what a guy making his 5th(?) NHL start might do when placed in a game 7 situation. Tons of pressure, and while the team was flat infront of him, so was he. He did the same thing in Washington when he had Neuwirth and Varlamov.

    Hiller gave him no reason to be taken out by a kid. No disrespect to Gibson, kid is a stud, but Hiller should have been in net.

    As a GM, having depth in net is never a bad thing. Unless your Bob Murray and have Boudrea as a coach. If Gibson prevailed and was the savior the ducks needed, we would laud him for making such a ballsy move. On the flip side, having lost he has to deal with this.

    • patthehockeyfan - May 19, 2014 at 8:46 AM

      I don’t know that I disagree with you re: Hiller vs. Gibson.

      (Full disclosure: I’m a Kings’ fan.)

      Game 7 was Gibson’s 6th NHL game, and his first game 7. As great as he was in his prior 5 games, you might be on to something to suggest it should have been Hiller in the net. Gibson stood on his head in those 5 games, and it might have been natural to start him in game 7. I’m not saying that he reacted to the pressure; it certainly would have helped had the Ducks played better. But, game 7 – an elimination game – Boudreau should have had the more experienced goaltender in the net – Hiller.

      The Kings probably still would have won (probably). But, Boudreau will forever be questioned about his questionable decision to start Gibson.

      Funny (or not so funny) thing: a couple of months ago, when Hiller had a few bad games, Boudreau announced that Hiller’s confidence was shaky. You have to wonder if this is the ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’ paradox. Boudreau says Hiller has no confidence. Boudreau doesn’t start Hiller. Hiller loses confidence because he’s not being started.

      The Ducks had a fantastic regular season. While it’s all about the playoffs and the Cup, I still can’t fault Anaheim for their season. They played great.

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