NHL Playoffs 2011: The Curious Case of Bruce Boudreau and Washington Capitals

Josh McCainSenior Writer IApril 15, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Bruce Boudreau, head coach of the Washington Capitals, talks to the media during a press conference after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

On the eve of the NHL's 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, many fans and talking heads in Washington D.C. were fixated not on Game 1 against the New York Rangers, but on the job security of Bruce Boudreau.

Never has a coach with a .679 regular-season winning percentage faced such criticism from the fanbase.

Granted, Boudreau is only 14-15 in the playoffs, but if you look back at how dismal the Capitals were before he took over midseason in 2007, you should be thanking him for turning them into a playoff contender.

With such dominance in the regular season the past two years, fans and pundits have expected the Caps to carry that over into the playoffs, but as of yet they have not.

Up until this season the Caps were a fast and ferocious offensive juggernaut. Like the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL, they could spot a team a few points and come back to win.

Playing that way is all fine and good in the regular season, but when you get to the postseason and run into a hot defensive team, that juggernaut isn't such a force anymore.

Whether or not Boudreau's job was in jeopardy, he decided to switch things up the season and play a more defensive-minded game. 

At first the Caps struggled with the adjustment, but after the All-Star break and trades for savvy veterans like Jason Arnott, the team began to buy in and not only overcame the Tampa Bay Lightning to with the Southeast Division, but also overtook the Philadelphia Flyers to take the Eastern Conference.

Much like last season, those in the know kept telling us what team the Caps didn't match up well against. Last year it was Montreal (the team that bounced them from the playoffs), and this year it was the Rangers.

Of course, the Rangers would finish in eighth place to assure that they would face the Capitals.

Game 1 was a dirty, defensively played game, and with the Caps trailing by a goal, it took captain Alexander Ovechkin jamming his stick at the puck and goalie Henrik Lundqvist to force a goal.

It wasn't the pretty goal we're used to seeing from Ovie, but it got the job done and sent the game into overtime.

Not only did the defensive play of the Capitals please me (this team was notorious for losing games like that in previous years), but also how they won the game.

How many times have we seen the Caps give up a goal on a botched or lazy clear?

For once the Caps were on the opposite end of that type of deal.

A visibly exhausted Marc Staal tried to clear the puck over Arnott only to have the puck bounce off Arnott's chest.

Arnott gathered the puck and quickly passed it to Alexander Semin. 

Semin hadn't scored a playoff goal in 15 games. Those of you who have ever played a sport know that when you're in a deep slump like that, you start to force things and screw up royally.

Semin in past series had been forcing the issue, and in response he'd botch passes, fan on open shots and just look downright terrible at points.

However, when he got the pass from Arnott, he didn't force anything. He reared back and fired a laser that hit the back of the net so hard that it bounced out and went about five feet.

It was so quick that I cursed because I thought he'd hit the post. Shoot, so did the person in charge of the horn for goals because that was delayed as well. Pretty much the only people who saw the puck go in were Arnott (who I yelled at for not getting what I thought was a rebound) and the official.

The fact that the Caps won such a dirty game and that it was won on a fantastic slap shot by Semin gives me hope not only for this series, but also for the whole playoffs.

However, if the Caps were to fall in this series, firing Boudreau won't be the answer.

GM George McPhee has done a good job by adding defense and veterans this year, and this team is probably the best the Capitals have ever had.

With that said, they've instituted a new philosophy as to how they play. They could lose the series 4-1 and I'd still be on the side of keeping Boudreau on staff. I feel you have to give him at least one more season to run this new defensively minded Caps team.


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