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Current Minnesota Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau coached the Washington Capitals from Thanksgiving Day, 2007 to November 28, 2011 . There were many memorable moments during that time frame. Many of these moments took place during his initial season of coaching the team. They are listed in rough chronological order, but not ranked.
Memorable Moment #1 – Appointment as Interim Head Coach of the Washington Capitals
It was November 22, 2007 and Thanksgiving Day when Boudreau, then the head coach of the Washington Capitals’ AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, received a phone call at 6:30 AM from then-Bears General Manager Doug Yingst. In his memoir, Gabby: Professions of a Hockey Lifer, Bourdreau recalled becoming anxious. Yingst told him that he would become the next coach of the Washington Capitals and that then-general manager George McPhee would call shortly. He was then offered the job as interim head coach of the Caps to replace Glen Hanlon and was sworn to secrecy as Hanlon was not yet informed. He and his wife drove from Harrisonburg, PA to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia, his wife having programmed the GPS, as he had never been there.
Once there, he ran his first practice and met with the media. However, this first trip did not come without difficulties: he got lost on his way to the practice facility and ended up near Redskins Park!
Memorable Moment #2 – The First Win
The next afternoon, November 23, 2007, the Caps traveled to Philadelphia to play an afternoon game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Prior to the game, Boudreau reviewed tapes with assistant coach Jay Leach and decided to make a change to the power play alignment. This particular change was immediately successful as, early in the game, defenseman Mike Green (who Boudreau had coached in Hershey) scored a power play goal. The Caps scored two more goals during the second period (then-captain Chris Clark and enforcer Donald Brashear) but the Flyers roared back with two goals of their own and tied it in the third period. The Caps ended up winning the game in overtime, on a Nicklas Backstrom goal, assisted by Alex Ovechkin.
Ironically enough, the Hershey Bears also played at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia the same day against the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the former Adirondack Phantoms. Having coached many of the players on the Capitals’ roster in Hershey, Bourdreau was able to utilize those players in roles that would get the most out of their talents.
Memorable Moment #3 – Wins over the Ottawa Senators Before and After the New Year
On December 27, 2007, the Caps had lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in overtime; their fifth loss in seven games. Ovechkin had left the game early due to getting cut with a skate and needing 25 stitches. Boudreau was extremely upset with the team as they had played the third period without enough energy. They played much better in their next game that took on December 29 which was against the Ottawa Senators. Prior to that game, Ottawa was rolling, having won eight of their last nine games and had won 66% of their games. Ovechkin was still on the fence for being able to play, as a result of the thigh injury he had received against Pittsburgh. However, he did end up playing as the Caps won the game 8-6 which featured four goals by Ovechkin. The Caps also received two goals from veteran Michael Nylander, and a goal each from Backstrom and Alexander Semin.
After the New Year, they faced the Senators again – this time in Washington on January 1. They fell behind 2-0, but roared back with four goals (including a power play tally from Green) in the first period and went on to win 6-3. Boudreau told the media after that game that the Caps were starting to believe in themselves and that when they fell behind initially, they would not get depressed but instead tell themselves that they would score 2-3 goals of their own.
Memorable Moment #4 – Win Against Penguins as Team Reaches .500 Mark
On January 21, 2008, the Caps won their fourth game in a row, this time by beating the Penguins in a shootout. Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby missed this game due to a high ankle sprain. But Russian Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins other weapon, was able to play. The Penguins got the initial goal during the first period but the Caps roared back with two goals of their own. However, Malkin got the game-tying goal soon after the Caps took the lead. Heading into the second period, the score was deadlocked at two apiece. During the second period, both Ovechkin and Malkin scored power play goals for their respective teams’ third goals and the second goal for each of them. The Penguins took the lead, with yet another power play goal. Ovechkin scored the game-tying goal before the midway point of the second period. The game continued its see-saw nature during the third period, with the Penguins taking the lead on a power play goal, but Caps forward Viktor Kozlov tying it up on another power play goal. The game remained tied at 5-5, which resulted in overtime, which featured no goals but the Caps killing off just over a minute of 5-on-3 penalty kill. The Caps won the game on a shootout goal by Ovechkin.
Coming into this game, the Penguins had won seven games in a row against the Caps in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh had gone 10-1-2 in their previous thirteen games, despite being decimated by numerous injuries, especially the one to Crosby. As a result of this game, the Capitals had finally topped the .500 mark, with their wins outnumbering their regulation losses, for the first time since October, which was a remarkable accomplishment considering their horrendous play during much of November.
Memorable Moment #5 – The Playoff Drive Road Trip of Late March
On March 19, 2008, the Caps lost 5-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks. That loss had followed a four-game winning streak. After that particular game, Boudreau was concerned, realizing seasons had ebbs and flows and that often losing streaks would follow winning streaks since teams could not maintain the “high” forever. The next game, which came against the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers, started off badly, with the Caps down 3-1 heading into the third period. Boudreau ripped the team during that intermission and pointed out the team had only six games left after this particular game and this was a game they needed to win in order to make the playoffs. The Caps responded well. They outshot Atlanta 23-2 in the third period and scored four goals in the third period to win 5-3. This game featured two goals by Backstrom.
The following game, on March 25, they played the Carolina Hurricanes who were in first place in the Southeast division. The game was important, given the fact that if they did not beat the Hurricanes, they would have little to no chance of winning the division. They ended up winning the game 3-2 in a shootout. The game featured the 61st goal of the season for Ovechkin, breaking the team record set by Dennis Maruk in 1982. They followed up that win with wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. These wins closed out a long road trip for the Caps, finishing with a record of 5-1. They beat Tampa Bay 4-3 in overtime and beat the Panthers 3-0 in regulation.
Memorable Moment #6 – Closing out the Playoff Drive in April
The Caps returned home on April 1 and faced the Hurricanes, Lightning, and Panthers. With the team starting to have more success and a chance at making the playoffs, attendance started to increase. These three games were all sellouts, with the fans dressing in red to show their support. Coincidentally, Boudreau wore a red dress shirt for the Carolina game. The objective was for the Caps to win the game – in regulation and prevent Carolina from getting any points. They scored two goals late in the first period, gave up a goal early in the second period, but scored twice more, on a power play goal by Semin and a goal by Ovechkin. The final score was 4-1. With that win, the Caps were now tied with Carolina at 90 points. If the Caps could win their last two games, and Carolina failed to get all possible points, they would clinch the Southeast Division title.
On April 3, they beat Tampa Bay 4-1 which featured two goals by Ovechkin who upped his league-leading total to 65. Florida had scored the initial goal of the game, but could get no more and gave up four unanswered goals the rest of the way. April 5 was the last game of the regular season which they won 3-1, featuring goals by Semin and trade deadline acquisition Sergei Fedorov. By winning that game, they became the first team to go from 15th in their conference to a playoff spot. The Caps edged the Hurricanes for the Southeast Division title by two points. The Caps had gone 37-17-7 after Boudreau had taken over the Caps on Thanksgiving Day to finish up with a 43-31-8 record and 94 points. It was a 24-point improvement from the previous season.
Memorable Moment #7 – Winning the Jack Adams Award
After the successful turnaround under Boudreau, speculation began as to whether he would win the Jack Adams Award, which is awarded to the NHL Coach of the Year. On May 1, the NHL announced that Boudreau was one of the three finalists for the award, along with Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock and Montreal Canadiens Head Coach, Guy Carbonneau. At the time this announcement was made, Boudreau was at home watching a game on television and his son, Andy, who was watching another game and the news was announced during that game. Andy called his dad and told him the news which he had not yet heard. The winner was announced at the NHL Awards Show, held on June 12 at the Elgin Theater in Toronto. Boudreau did not expect to win, especially after the accolades given to his competitors for the award. However, Boudreau ended up winning, giving his wife Carol a hug, and high-fiving members of the audience as he strolled up to the stage to accept his award. The Caps were well-represented in Toronto: Ovechkin won all four major player awards (Hart Memorial Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, and Art Ross Trophy) and Nicklas Backstrom finishing second in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
This concludes the most memorable moments during the first season of Bruce Boudreau’s mostly successful coaching tenure with the Caps.
By Diane Doyle
Washington Capitals Web Site: capitals.nhl.com (from the Schedule portion, 2007-2008 season)
Gabby, Confessions of a Hockey Lifer by Bruce Boudreau and Tim Leone