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Bruce Boudreau’s coaching career with the Washington Capitals had quite a few memorable moments. This article builds on Part 1 with nine more memorable moments that happened during “Gabby’s” tenure in Washington
Memorable Moment #1 – Mercedes Commercial
At the beginning of the 2008-2009 season, Boudreau filmed a commercial for American Service Center, a Mercedes Benz car dealership in Arlington, VA. The salesman in the commercial shows him a Mercedes model ML and Boudreau asks about the cup holders, wanting a really big one. The salesman then opens the trunk and shows a cup holder large enough for the Stanley Cup. This particular commercial aired on Comcast throughout the fall.
Memorable Moment #2 – Victory Over Penguins in October
After losing their first game to the Atlanta Thrashers and winning their next two contests against the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks, the Caps went to Pittsburgh on October 16, 2008 to play the Penguins, a traditional arch rival, who they had found difficult to beat during the previous several years. The Penguins got two power play goals during the first period from defenseman Alex Goligoski and star forward Evgeni Malkin. They added a third power play goal by Miroslav Satan early in the second period, putting the Pens ahead 3-0. The Capitals answered with a goal from then-Washington forward Tomas Fleischmann. The Caps received goals from Alex Semin, Michael Nylander, and Boyd Gordon to defeat the Pens 4-3.
Gordon’s game winner had initially hit a goal post and bounced onto the ice so quickly that the refs had initially waved it off. This was a game they had won, despite falling behind by three goals and despite superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin not scoring for a second straight game.
Memorable Moment #3 – Victory Over Carolina Hurricanes on November 6
Coming into this game, the Caps had dropped two straight to the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators and were now facing division rival Carolina Hurricanes at home. At that point in the season, the Caps were competitive with a 5-4-2 record and Carolina was ahead with a 7-3-2 record. With Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom both in slumps and Alexander Semin in the midst of a scoring streak, Boudreau decided to change the lineup to try to jump start the scoring and fielded an all-Russian top line consisting of Ovechkin, veteran center Sergei Fedorov, and Semin. The three had excelled in the IIHF World Championships the previous spring while playing together.
The game did not start off well for the Capitals as Scott Walker scored for Carolina on the Canes’ first shot on goal. Fedorov scored the equalizer early in the second period. However, the Canes took the lead again midway through the period. Fedorov ended up getting injured during the third period and had to leave the game. Backstrom was then returned to the first-line to replace Fedorov. With less than three minutes to go in the game, Semin scored the tying goal, on a pass from Ovechkin. The Caps won the game 3-2. The victory tied them with Carolina for the lead in the Southeast Division. While this was Ovechkin’s eighth consecutive game without a goal, he had two assists. After winning this particular game, they won four more in succession and, in each of them, used the line combination of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin. This game was viewed as a potential turning point for the Capitals’ season. If they had lost, they would have been at a .500 winning percentage and Carolina would have increased their division lead; and it may have cost them more, as the Caps had lost both Fedorov and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn to injury.
Memorable Moment #4 – Win at Home Against the Thrashers After Long Road Trip
The Caps returned home for a game against the Atlanta Thrashers on November 26, the day before Thanksgiving. They had finished a long, tough five-game road trip that had begun in New Jersey against the New Jersey Devils, then to the West Coast to play the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and the San Jose Sharks where they would come away with only a single victory in three games before heading to Minnesota to play the Wild. They lost in overtime to the Devils, beat the Ducks, and then dropped three straight contests, against the Kings, Sharks, and Wild. Hence, it was a 1-3-1 road trip record which not only was notable for losses of games, but losses of players to injury as well. Prior to the start of the road trip, Fedorov and Semin were out with injuries, and they suffered even more during the trip, as defenseman Mike Green injured his shoulder in the game against the Ducks, defensemen Jeff Schultz and John Erskine, and forwards Chris Clark and Boyd Gordon were all injured in the game against the Wild.
Some fans called this the “Road Trip From Hell” between all the losses and player casualties. With all the injuries, the Caps recalled up several players from their farm team in Hershey including defensemen Karl Alzner and Sami Lepisto, and forwards Chris Bourque and Graham Mink. It seemed the “home cooking” had a positive effect on the team.
In the Atlanta game, Ovechkin scored an early power play goal, and Eric Fehr added a goal to give the Caps an early 2-0 lead. While they gave up a power play goal to Atlanta, the Caps responded with a second power play goal by Ovechkin and lead 4-1 after one period. Ovechkin completed the hat trick early in the second period and in doing so, became the team leader in goals. The huge night resulted in a 5-3 victory. They won their next game against the Montreal Canadiens as well, with one more key defenseman, Tom Poti, sidelined.
Memorable Moment #5 – Five- Game Winning Streak in December
While winning their game the day before Thanksgiving on November 26, they played .500 hockey for the next six games, with the numerous Hershey call ups, especially on defense.
The Caps got some relief on December 10, as two of the injured players returned to the lineup against the red-hot Boston Bruins: Semin and Poti. While the lineup still featured numerous players (five total) from Hershey, the returning players seemed to give the team a mental lift as they won 3-1. Semin contributed an assist on Ovechkin’s empty net goal near the end of the game. Following the victory, the Caps won four consecutive games. Their next win was a 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators, a game in which both Semin and Ovechkin scored goals; they celebrated by pretending to play patty cake! The next game was a 2-1 victory against Montreal which featured the NHL debut of Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov and the return of Green to the lineup. They next beat the New York Islanders 5-4 in overtime and followed that by beating the St. Louis Blues at home, in a game notable for Varlamov’s Verizon Center debut and Semin suffering yet another injury. The streak ended the next game, a 7-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on December 20.
Memorable Moment #6 – Miracle on 32nd Street Game
After losing to the Philadelphia Flyers on December 20, the Caps traveled to New York City to play the New York Rangers on December 23. Poti injured his groin early in the Flyers game and Green reinjured his shoulder, adding to what was already a very long injury list which also consisted of Semin, Fedorov, Schultz, captain Chris Clark, Erskine, and enforcer Donald Brashear. As a result, their top defensive pairings for that game was Alzner, a rookie called up from Hershey at the end of November, and Milan Jurcina, who normally played on the third pairing. The rest of their defensive corps consisted of Shaone Morrisonn, who was usually on the top pairing with Green, and three other call ups from Hershey, in Tyler Sloan, Bryan Helmer, and Sean Collins. The forwards included youngster Andrew Gordon, who was making his NHL debut, and Alexandre Giroux.
The Caps fell behind 3-0 early and starting goalie Jose Theodore was pulled in favor of backup Brent Johnson. However, Johnson was ill and was unable to return for the second period, so Theodore returned to the game. He gave up another goal as the Caps fell behind 4-0. It looked as though the Caps were headed to their second consecutive loss. But then the tide turned when Ovechkin scored a goal during the second period. The Caps ended up scoring three goals, including another goal by Ovechkin, during the third period to tie the score at four apiece. The game went into overtime. Morrisonn, who was celebrating his 26th birthday that day (ironically his jersey number), scored the game-winning goal, with an assist by Nylander as the Caps won 5-4, completing the comeback. Given that the game took place so close to the Christmas holiday and geographically occurred close to that of the iconic Macy’s department store, the game became known as the “Miracle of 32nd Street” game.
While it ended up being their last game before Christmas, it started a seven-game winning streak for the team. It was quite an accomplishment to compile this streak, given the injuries that had plagued the Caps. During that streak, Green missed two games, Schultz missed two games, Semin missed five games, Fedorov was out for the entire streak, and Tomas Fleischmann became sidelined with pneumonia. In all, the Caps had won 11 out of 12 games during a stretch where they had missed numerous players to injuries or illness. It was seen as a testament to how well the team could play, even with young call ups from Hershey.
Memorable Moment #7 – Boudreau Inducted into AHL Hall of Fame
On November 24, 2008, it was announced that Boudreau would be inducted into the American Hockey League (AHL) Hall of Fame for the Class of 2009. The induction was held Monday January 26, 2009 in Worcester, Massachusetts as part of the AHL All-Star Classic Luncheon. With the Caps scheduled to play on Boston the following day, Boudreau was able to attend the induction in person but claimed he would have flown in from Alaska to attend.
Boudreau was inducted for both his playing and coaching accomplishments. As a player, he had 316 goals and 483 assists for 799 points. His point and assist totals both ranked 11th in AHL history, his goal total 14th. He played for seven teams and had a 116-point season with the Springfield Indians. He spent eight seasons coaching and made the Calder Cup playoffs each time, winning the Calder Cup with the Bears in 2005-2006.
Memorable Moment #8 – Mike Green Goal Scoring Streak
On February 14, in a game between the Caps and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Mike Green scored a goal in his eighth consecutive game, setting an NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman. This was Green’s 23rd goal of the year, leading all NHL defensemen by a significant margin. His father, David, was in the audience, as the Caps were hosting their annual Dads’ trip, with that year’s trip being the road trip to Florida. It was the longest streak in the NHL since forwards Miroslav Satan of the Buffalo Sabres and Teemu Selanne of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim did it years before. It fell one game short of the Caps record, jointly held by Alan Haworth (1985-86) and Mike Gartner (1986-87). The Caps won the game 5-1, which also included goals by Ovechkin and Semin. During Green’s goal-scoring streak, the Caps were 6-1-1. The streak was stopped in their next game against Florida, although the Caps won. Green ended up with 31 goals and 42 assists for a total of 73 points, despite missing 14 games that season to injury, which is a productive total for a forward and outstanding for a defenseman. The promotion of Boudreau, who knew what Green was capable of and gave him permission to join the offensive rush, was a fundamental piece in the rise to prominence of Green as a goal-scoring defenseman.
Memorable Moment #9 – Switching from Jose Theodore to Semyon Varlamov in Playoffs
The Caps had lost Game 1 of their first round series in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the New York Rangers, 4-3. They had scored the first goal but gave up three unanswered goals to fall behind 3-1. They came back to tie the game up at three apiece but ended up losing in a game in which the Caps had played better overall. Jose Theodore had not been particularly effective at the end of the regular season, posting a save percentage of .874 in his last ten games, Boudreau considered making a goaltending switch. It would be a risky move to switch to the 21-year-old rookie, Varlamov. If Theodore had another difficult game, and Varlamov debuted in Game 3 and struggled, the Caps would be facing an 0-3 deficit. After discussions with his coaches, Boudreau opted to start Varlamov in Game 2. The Caps ended up losing 1-0 but Varlamov had performed well enough in the game to persuade Boudreau to start him in Game 3. The Caps won 4-0 in Game 3, but lost 2-1 in Game 4, both with Varlamov in net.
The Caps ended up winning the series in seven games, thanks to an iconic Sergei Fedorov goal. Varlamov played for the remainder of that series. He ended up playing in the next series, a hard-fought series against the Penguins, which the Caps lost in seven games.
This concludes the most memorable moments for the second season of Bruce Boudreau’s 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