The playoffs are about trends and familiarity. Whether it’s a player who statistically flounders during the regular season and annually becomes a dynamo when the games really count. A dynamic goalie ends up falling flat on his face Spring after Spring, or a team regularly dominating the competition, there’s always a trend somewhere.
This year, the trend that’s come up in the second round is a little different. Last year, Bruce Boudreau took the reigns of the Washington Capitals in November, helping them rebound from a horrid start, and led them all the way to the playoffs, only to be dismissed in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.
This year, the same thing happened with the Pittsburgh Penguins: Dan Bylsma came in after Michael Therien lost his touch with the Penguins’ lineup, and a dynamic turnaround occurred.
Now, in the second round of the 2009 NHL playoffs, the original (Boudreau) is set to take on the newly-cast hero (Bylsma). Admittedly though, Bylsma does have a bit of a leg up on Bruce.
“Coming up, he’s probably like any other new coach—nervous and anxious. But he’s been in the NHL a bit longer than me (as a player).”
Professional-level experience on the ice or not, Boudreau has been an instant success in Washington. With two division championships, 87 wins in 119 games, and a Jack Adams award in just two years have Caps fans singing the praises of the one of the most prolific AHL scorers.
Despite that early success, Boudreau hasn’t lost track of his ultimate goal.
“Growth comes with winning a Stanley Cup. Our goal isn’t simply to win one series. It’s to win all of the series.”
The growth Boudreau witnessed from his players, specifically his defense in their recent seven game series with the New York Rangers had the coach beaming. Calling it “the best defensive stretch of seven games” since he’s been there, Boudreau was impressed, not only with his younger players like Mike Green, but Tom Poti and the veteran guys as well.
“Tom is our most experienced defenseman. He’s been in a lot of situations and played in a lot of tough buildings”, Boudreau said. “He’s a quiet guy, but he has his way of communicating (that experience) with the younger defensemen on the team.”
He may not be the defacto leader that everyone thinks of when you think ‘Washington Capitals defense’, but while some overlook Poti’s adjustments and attributes to the team, Boudreau’s appreciation of his veterans is second-to-none. When Chris Clark returned to play in game seven of that first round series against the Rangers, there wasn’t a player or coach pulling for him more than Boudreau.
For a player that had been through so many injury problems over the past two years, he had always stayed positive, making Boudreau even happier that Clark was able to play pain-free. The patience and support paid off in spades as Clark had “a really good game”, surprising even Boudreau.
Sergei Fedorov is another one of the veterans that Boudreau loves to have on his team, and he’s not the only one.
“All of the Russian kids really look up to him.” Boudreau told us, and why not? While players like Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin were growing up, Fedorov was busy winning Hart and Selke trophies, along with Stanley Cups.
But Fedorov brings more than just a history and reputation to the Caps.
“He brings smarts and savvy with him. He knows what to do in big moments, because game seven’s aren’t exactly situations he hasn’t been in.”
While no team wins in the playoffs without a veteran core or a solid supporting cast, as is always the case, the young guns are taking all the headlines in the Capital City.
While Ovechkin, Semin, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby have all been thrown into what resembles a fatal-four-way match of talent, the youngsters on the Caps have worked to keep their noses clean, and when they do talk, it’s never vindictive or spiteful.
Never mind containing the stars when a microphone is put in front of their mouths though, it’ll be out on the ice that Crosby and Malkin offer the Caps the most trouble.
Being two of the best players in the league, the Caps have watched tape on the stars; not just tape of them individually, but tape of when they’re on the same lines, different lines, and the depth (Boudreau specifically mentioned Jordan Staal) that compliments them.
It’s that familiarity with Crosby and Malkin’s ability to start a game together and be just as effective getting split up later, that Boudreau hopes will help the team detain, and not necessarily stop, the two snipers.
With plans and preparations accounting for only so much though, the ultimate success of the Caps will come down to this year’s Cinderella: Simeon Varlamov.
While Varlamov did seemingly come out of nowhere, having only played six regular season games this year, Boudreau still had a lot of faith, both in his rookie goaltender, and in his veteran Jose Theodore.
If Varlamov hadn’t been able to achieve that early success, Boudreau wouldn’t have had a problem going back to Theodore.
He would have had a problem though, going to Varlamov in game three, down 2-0 in the series if Theodore hadn’t been able to turn it around—hence the hasty switch.
The steely-eyed rookie fits the description of a playoff breakout star. He’s quiet, with a strong poker face.
Inside, Boudreau feels that he’s just like anybody else; the butterflies are flapping a mile a minute. Despite such different backgrounds, Boudreau can find a lot of similarities between the games of his two keepers—Varlamov just plays a lot bigger in the net.
Whether the second round will turn out similarly for Varlamov, or if the roles will be reversed for the two (Boudreau is not opposed to putting the experienced Theodore back in) will be interesting to see.
One thing is for sure though. While Boudreau has won a Calder Cup (2006 with the Hershey Bears) with a few of the players on this roster now, he won’t rest until he wins the Stanley Cup with this roster.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report, as well as a correspondent for HockeyBarn.com. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.
Special thanks to HockeyBarn for the opportunity to talk to Bruce.