Head coach Claude Julien took exactly 1,455 days to elevate the Boston Bruins from repeat playoff no-shows to ultimate playoff victors. On June 15 of last season, Julien’s Bruins improved to 33-23 in postseason action on his watch and celebrated with the Stanley Cup just six days before the four-year anniversary of his hiring.
Bruce Boudreau, on the other hand, was given 1,467 days to essentially do the same thing for the Washington Capitals. But six days after the four-year anniversary of his invitation to succeed Glen Hanlon, Boudreau got the ax from general manager George McPhee on Monday morning.
What a difference a championship can make.
The difference between the two coaches and their job security is probably more sophisticated than that. But still, it is tough to ignore the many parallels between Julien’s and Boudreau’s concomitant tenures in Boston and Washington.
At the time of Julien’s introduction on June 21, 2007, the Bruins were working on two straight non-playoff campaigns on the other side of the 2004-05 lockout. The same held true for the Capitals when Boudreau replaced Hanlon on Nov. 22 that same year.
The requisite first step was achieved by both franchises, as they each reached the 2008 playoffs in the closing phases of the homestretch. From there, they both brooked defeat in a hard-fought, seven-game first-round series, the Bruins losing to the top dog Montreal Canadiens and the Capitals falling short to Philadelphia.
After inheriting a 6-14-1 Washington club, Boudreau oversaw a 37-17-7 finish en route to first place in a frankly shallow Southeast Division. Nonetheless, the Capitals’ point total of 94 matched that of Julien’s eighth-place Bruins and the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators. For that, his work was rewarded with the 2008 Jack Adams Award.
The following year, Boston and Washington built upon their foundations ahead of schedule, finishing first and second in the Eastern Conference, respectively. In turn, they each advanced to the second round of the playoffs, a first since 1999 for the Bruins and 1998 for the Capitals.
However, after all but skating out of their skins, they both collapsed on home ice in the seventh game of the conference semifinals. The Bruins blinked in overtime against upset-minded Carolina, while the Capitals submitted to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, the eventual champions.
For Boston, some of the vinegar was rinsed out at the subsequent NHL Awards when Julien succeeded Boudreau as the Jack Adams recipient after an otherworldly 53-win, 116-point regular season.
Washington won 54 games and reaped 121 points to finish atop the East in 2009-10, while an injury-riddled Bruins squad scrapped its way back into the playoffs and looked to restore normalcy there.
Just by reaching the 2010 postseason, Boudreau became the first skipper to direct the Capitals to three consecutive playoff appearances since Jim Schoenfeld did it in 1996.
But that alone wasn’t going to suffice anymore. And the way Washington dropped out of the first round against Montreal, blowing a 3-1 series lead and fizzling in Game 7 at the Verizon Center, made 2009-10 a bona fide sweet-and-sour campaign.
Meanwhile, when Julien’s Bruins secured their playoff passport on the penultimate day of the regular season, he was the first Boston coach to enter three straight postseasons since Brian Sutter in 1995. Upon dumping the Northeast Division champion Buffalo Sabres in the opening round, he became the first coach to win a playoff round for Boston in consecutive years since Mike Milbury in 1991.
But New England buffs could have cared less about that after their team pulled a 2004 New York Yankee in the next round against Philadelphia. Just like the Caps, the Bs had snuffed out in Game 7 on home ice for the second straight season.
It wasn’t until 12 months later that Julien’s and Boudreau’s fortunes took off in distinctly different directions. This past May, both teams returned to the NHL’s elite eight with both fanbases itching ever more intensely for the ticket to the third round they thought they might have had in 2009 or 2010.
As it happened, both teams ended the 2011 second round in a sweep, except, while the Bruins exorcised their demon against Philadelphia, the Capitals rolled over against Tampa Bay. From there, Julien’s squad continued to slay their Game 7 monster, ousting the Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy and vanquishing Vancouver for the Cup.
If not for that, if Boston had fallen short to the Flyers or Lightning, Julien might have entered this season on just as hot of a seat as Boudreau.
Maybe that’s the underlying difference between the ostensibly similar cases of Brad Marchand responding to a recent benching with a go-ahead goal against New Jersey and Alex Ovechkin following an unpleasant exchange on the bench with a game-winning overtime assist.
Or maybe it has more to do with the way one of these teams has handled initial adversity and how another has followed up on early success.
In defense of their title, the Bruins stumbled in October, going 3-7-0 and sitting dead-last in the conference. Conversely, in an energetic vow for redemption, the Capitals started this season on a seven-game winning streak.
Since then, the tangibles and intangibles this month have refreshed Julien’s championship caliber persona and Boudreau’s underachieving rep.
Amidst a 10-game winning streak and 11-0-1 run on the month, Julien has brought the Bruins all the way up to fourth place in the conference (or third if you go strictly by points). And they have two games in hand on Toronto and Pittsburgh, whom they trail by one and three points for first in the division and conference.
Amidst a 5-9-1 lull, the Capitals have gone from the summit to a virtual tie with New Jersey for the last playoff spot.
The best hope for Washington fans now is that Dale Hunter can pull a 2009 Dan Bylsma or 2000 Larry Robinson by taking Boudreau’s mess on the fly en route to a title.
Conversely, for turning his own team around after their acrid, hung-over start, Julien could contend for another Jack Adams provided his team contends for another Cup in 2012.
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