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Bruce Boudreau’s coaching career with the Washington Capitals had even more memorable moments after his first three seasons. The fourth and final Best Moments (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) describes more memorable moments that happened in his fourth full season with the team.
Memorable Moment #1 – Fight Night at the Home Opener Against the New Jersey Devils
The Capitals had begun the 2010-2011 season with a loss to the Atlanta Thrashers in Atlanta and were hoping to turn things around in their home opener against the New Jersey Devils. The game started off badly for the Capitals, with the Devils scoring less than two minutes into the contest. The Caps answered with a goal by defenseman John Carlson. However, the Devils scored a short-handed goal more than halfway through the first period to lead 2-1. Both goals were the result of defensive breakdowns by the Caps.
Things went much better for the Caps during the second period, when the Caps scored FOUR unanswered goals. Tomas Fleischmann scored early in the second period to tie up the game, followed by goals from Alex Ovechkin and Jason Chimera. Ovechkin scored again near the end of the period on a penalty shot. The Caps now led 5-2. They got two more goals during the third period to a commanding 7-2 lead. With the game being so lopsided, the period was more notable for the many fighting majors. Chimera and Devils forward David Clarkson got into a fight. With less than five minutes left in the game, Caps defenseman Mike Green and New Jersey forward Ilya Kovalchuk got into possibly the worst-looking NHL fight ever, with both participants reluctant to throw the first punch. Seconds later, Caps forward Matt Bradley fought Clarkson for the latter’s second fight of the game. After that, Pierre-Luc LeTourneau-Leblond tried to instigate a fight with Caps rookie Marcus Johansson, who declined. Carlson stepped in to defend Johansson from LeTourneau-LeBlond. While Carlson earned himself a roughing and a game misconduct penalty, LeTourneau-LeBlond earned fighting, slashing, instigator, and game misconduct penalties. His behavior earned him a suspension and the Devils sent him to the minors, even though they were already short of personnel, due to salary cap issues.
Memorable Moment #2 – Holtby Makes NHL Debut and Wins in Relief
The Caps were playing the Boston Bruins at home on November 5, 2010 with Michal Neuvirth starting in goal and Tim Thomas starting in goal for the Bruins. After a scoreless first period, the Caps struck for three goals during the second period, from defensemen Tyler Sloan and Mike Green, and a short-handed goal by forward Alexander Semin.
The Bruins switched goalies to start off the third period, substituting youngster Tuukka Rask for Thomas. The Bruins got two power play goals at the beginning of the third period and then tied the game about midway through the period. Boudreau, unimpressed with Neuvirth’s performance when the Bruins had scored their second and third goals, switched goalies, bringing in rookie Braden Holtby who had never played in an NHL game before. This was the NHL debut for the 21-year-old netminder, who had been brought up from the Hershey Bears due to starter Semyon Varlamov’s injury. About three minutes after the goalie switch, John Carlson, Holtby’s road roommate at the time, scored a goal against Rask and the Bruins, which proved to be the game winner and was the third win in a row for the Caps.
Holtby’s work in that game earned him the start in the next game the Caps played which was against the Flyers at home on November 7, which the Caps ended up winning 3-2 in overtime.
Memorable Moment #3 – Two Hat Tricks by Alexander Semin Against Tampa Bay
On November 11, 2010, the day the United States celebrates Veterans’ Day and the day the Canadians celebrate Remembrance Day, the Caps played the Tampa Bay Lightning at home. Prior to that game, all the talk was about Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos, who was leading the league in goals scored at that time.
The game started with a Lightning goal midway through the first period. During the second period, the Caps roared back with two goals of their own from defenseman Tom Poti and veteran forward Mike Knuble. During the third period, Lightning forward Ryan Malone tied the game on a power play goal. About two minutes later, Alexander Semin scored a power play goal of his own to put the Caps ahead once again. Semin added a second goal midway through the third period to put the Caps up 4-2. Stamkos scored his 14th goal of the year to cut the lead to 4-3.
Before the game was over, Alex Ovechkin scored, and Semin added an empty net goal to complete the hat trick. The final score was 6-3. Semin had three goals and two assists and earned First Star of the Game. This particular game was the sixth win in a row for the Caps.
On the day after Thanksgiving, Tampa Bay had a rematch with the Caps in Washington. Coming into this game, the Lightning had won five games in a row and had closed the standings gap in the Southeast Division to just four points. This game started off well for the Caps, with John Carlson opening up the scoring during the first period. During the second period, defenseman John Erskine scored to increase the lead to 2-0. Two minutes after that, Semin scored the Caps third goal. He followed that up by scoring twice on a pair of power plays, completing the natural hat trick and increasing his goal total for the season to 17. The Caps won the game 6-0 and increased their division lead by six points. This was Semin’s third hat trick of the year and second one against Tampa Bay.
Memorable Moment #4 – Filming 24-7 Lead up to the Winter Classic
In Bourdreau’s fourth year at the helm, the HBO TV network planned to broadcast a four-part documentary leading up to the 2011 NHL Winter Classic, set to be played on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With the Caps and Pittsburgh Penguins the participating teams, they would be the focus of the series “24-7: Road to the Winter Classic”. HBO would be present in the locker room and would follow players both on and off the ice. When the series started filming, the Penguins were riding a ten-game winning streak while the Caps had dropped their previous two games.
The Caps had lost 2-1 loss against the Dallas Stars on December 2 in a game marked by numerous penalties called against the Caps. They also had a potential game-tying goal overturned by officials. They followed that loss with a 3-1 loss against the Atlanta Thrashers.
The first Caps game covered during the filming of 24-7 was a loss at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 5-4. They had led the game 4-1 at one point but Toronto tied the game with a small amount of time left in regulation, forced it to overtime, and won in the shootout.
Boudreau said the Caps had stopped playing and let Toronto back in. Their next game was a 3-0 loss against the Florida Panthers, where the Panthers scored their first goal with just one second to go in the second period. That was the game that motivated Boudreau to give his famous locker room speech that was not for younger fans:
“Have a seat for a second. Look, I have never seen a bunch of guys look so [expletive] down when something bad happens. What are you guys? Like prima donna perfect that if you can’t [expletive] handle adversity? So [expletive] not going right. It’s not [expletive] working the last ten days. [Expletive] get your heads out of your [expletive] and [expletive] make it work by outworking the opposition. You kill two [expletive] men, and then we stand around and watch while they [expletive] score. [Expletive] you come to the bench like [expletive] this and when the power play’s not working you’re trying to stick handle, you’re looking like this and not standing. Outwork the [expletive] guys! If you want it, don’t just think you want it. Go out and [expletive] want it. But you’re not looking like you want it, you look like you’re feeling sorry for yourself. And nobody [expletive] wants anybody that’s feeling sorry for themselves. You got 20 [expletive] minutes. You’re down by one [expletive] shot. Surely to [expletive] we can deal with this.”
After this explosive speech the team’s fortunes still did not turn as filming continued. Several members of the team were bothered by the flu, including Boyd Gordon, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green. They lost 3-2 to the Colorado Avalanche in a game on December 11 in which Semin earned a five-minute cross-checking penalty and was ejected from the game. This game is famous for a 24-7 episode depicting Ovechkin asking the official if the cross-checked opponent had “sensitive” skin.
They followed that by getting clobbered the next day by the New York Rangers 7-0, in a game notable for a fight between Alex Ovechkin and Brandon Dubinsky. On the day after the game, Boudreau announced to the team, “Guys, we’re going to play the trap.” The ugly loss, on top of five other losses in a row, signaled to Boudreau that change was needed from a defensive standpoint.
In addition to being mired in a losing streak, the Caps were bothered by injuries, as well as the lingering flu. Mike Knuble was recovering from a broken jaw, Jeff Schultz had gotten injured earlier that month, Semin injured his groin during the Rangers game, Matt Bradley broke his finger in the Avalanche game, needed surgery, and would miss the Winter Classic. A scene from 24-7 revealed Green in the trainer’s room wearing a knee brace.
The losing streak still did not end, even with the new defensive system. They lost in overtime to the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 on December 15. After that, they played the Boston Bruins in Boston on December 18 and fell behind 3-0 during first period. HBO captured Knuble’s locker room speech during the first intermission:
“It will not [expletive] turn into a 5-0, 7-0 [expletive] game, where they’re [expletive] giggling getting out of their [expletive] mess here. We’re [expletive] down 3-0, and we are going to come back and we’re going to [expletive] win this thing. We’re not [expletive] going in the tank. That’s enough right there. That’s [expletive] more than a year’s worth. It’s not going to happen again.”
The Caps still ended up losing 3-2 but scored two goals as they outshot Boston but Boston’s goaltender made many great saves. The losing streak was now up to eight games. They finally broke the losing streak the next day against the Ottawa Senators, winning 3-2. HBO captured the players celebrating the occasion with the rap song “Beat Dat Beat”
With the losing streak over, the Caps won three out of their next four games before the Winter Classic. Their one loss was a shootout loss to the Penguins.
Memorable Moment #5 – Winter Classic on January 1, 2011
New Year’s Day was the Winter Classic. Many fans from the Washington DC area traveled up to Pittsburgh the day before and spent New Year’s Eve in Pittsburgh, identifying themselves as members of the fan base by rocking their red Caps apparel. The forecast for the Winter Classic was for constant heavy rain to occur around 1:00 p.m., the original starting time. Because of this, the game was moved to 8:00 p.m. and would be broadcast in prime time. When the final episode of the 24-7 series aired, it showed Ovechkin muttering, “[Expletive] this [Expletive]burgh team”.
A goal from Penguins’ forward Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring early during the second period. Knuble tied the score four minutes later on a power play goal. Eric Fehr scored a goal with about five minutes to go in the second period to give the Caps the lead. Weather conditions grew worse as the game proceeded, especially during the third period, with high winds and light rain. Both teams changed sides about halfway through the third period as a result.
Fehr scored his second goal of the game about two minutes after the teams changed sides, putting the Caps ahead 3-1, which ended up being good enough to win.
During that game, Capitals forward David Steckel’s shoulder collided with Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby’s jaw, knocking Crosby to the ice. However, he did not leave the game. In the very next game the Penguins played, Crosby was driven into the glass by Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, and after the game it was announced that Crosby had a concussion; he missed the remainder of the season as a result. There was much controversy about whether Steckel’s hit of Crosby was the primary cause of his concussion. There were also questions on whether the doctors had missed a concussion when examining Crosby after the game or whether Pittsburgh played Crosby when they knew he had a concussion.
Memorable Moment #6 – Win Against Chicago Blackhawks March 14
The Caps were scheduled to play the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, March 13. This particular game was nationally televised. Going into this game, the Caps had won seven in a row. The game started off poorly for the Caps as Nick Leddy opened the scoring for the Blackhawks. Less than two minutes later, Boyd Gordon tied the game with a shorthanded goal. Near the end of the period, Jason Arnott, who had been acquired at the trade deadline, scored a power play goal, with assists from Alexander Semin and Dennis Wideman, to put the Caps ahead by two. Tomas Kopecky tied the game early in the second period.
The third period started with Brooks Laich scoring his fifteenth goal of the year just over six minutes in. But again, the Caps could not hold onto the lead. Marcus Johansson received a hooking penalty with less than two minutes to go in the period, resulting in a power play goal by Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. The game was tied at 3-3 and went into overtime. Knuble ended up scoring the game-winning goal with just over a minute to go in the game. He was assisted, ironically, by Johansson whose earlier penalty led to the game-tying goal. The final score was 4-3. It was the Caps’ eighth win in a row.
This game brought back memories of games of the previous season. The Caps won a nationally televised game on March 14 against the Blackhawks. Like the game the previous year, the Caps also started off behind, although this time, they did not fall into as deep of a hole. Like the previous year, they won the game in overtime, with Knuble scoring the winning goal rather than Nicklas Backstrom. Knuble had also scored a game-winning overtime goal in a nationally televised game the previous year but against Pittsburgh rather than Chicago. That game had extended a long winning streak, as well.
The winning streak lasted for one more game, in which they beat the Montreal Canadiens.
Memorable Moment #7 – Playoff Series Against the Rangers
The Caps finished first in the Southeast Division and first in the Eastern Conference for the 2010-2011 season. They were to meet the New York Rangers in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The two teams had split the season series during the regular season but the two games the Rangers won were both by lopsided scores, with the Rangers winning 7-0 in December in New York, and winning 6-0 on February 25. Caps fans were understandably apprehensive about how this series would go, recalling the fact they had lost a playoff series to eighth seeded Montreal the previous season.
The series began on April 13 at the Verizon Center, with the goalie matchup being the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist against the Caps’ Michal Neuvirth. Game 1 was scoreless after two periods. Defenseman Matt Gilroy scored for the Rangers early in the third period. Ovechkin scored the game-tying goal between thirteen and fourteen minutes. The game proceeded to overtime where Semin scored the game-winning goal near the end of the periodto win 2-1.
Game 2 was the game of the Jasons, also at the Verizon Center. The Caps won 2-0 with second period goals scored by Jason Chimera and Jason Arnott. Chimera scored early in the period while Arnott scored two minutes later on a power play goal.
The series proceeded to New York where the Caps lost a 3-2 heartbreaker on April 17, with Brandon Dubinsky scoring late in the third period to break a 2-2 tie. April 20 was another game in New York. After a scoreless first period, the Rangers erupted for three goals during the second period, putting the Caps in a 3-0 hole. It looked as though the series would be tied, as the teams returned to Verizon Center. During the third period, the Caps roared back with a goal by Semin and two goals by Marcus Johansson to tie the game at 3-3 as the game proceeded to overtime. Neither team scored during the first overtime, but just over twelve minutes into the second overtime, Chimera scored as the Caps won 4-3 and now had a commanding 3-1 series lead. This game prompted an opening video at Verizon Center inspired by the horror movie series, with a character named Jason titled “Jason – Nightmare in New York.”
The Caps’ fans remembered all too well that, only a year earlier, they had returned to Washington with a commanding 3-1 series lead, only to lose the series to Montreal. This year was different. The Caps received goals from Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin to hold a 3-0 lead. They gave up a late Rangers goal to lose a shutout, but ultimately won 3-1. The Caps won Round 1 of the playoffs and were set to meet the winner of the Pittsburgh Penguin/Tampa Bay Lightning series.
The Caps ended up losing Round 2 of the playoffs in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Lightning. This prompted the team’s management to look at the roster’s ability to win.. One of the results was a tougher, more intense training camp, and a greater emphasis on accountability. The Caps began the 2011-2012 season very well, by winning their first seven games.After that, however, the Caps struggled. After two consecutive lopsided losses, a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers followed by a 5-2 loss to a Buffalo Sabres team decimated by injuries, then-Caps General Manager George McPhee fired Boudreau. Boudreau was replaced with Dale Hunter, a Caps legend who was the coach and General Manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. Thus, the Boudreau era ended after four very memorable years in which the Caps were at or near the top of the Eastern Conference for the regular season but unable to advance past Round 2 in the playoffs.
By Diane Doyle