It has become an unavoidable part of any conversation about Bruce Boudreau, sometime after acknowledging he was voted coach of the year for turning around the Washington Capitals in 2007-08, won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team with them in 2009-10, and guided the Ducks to three straight Pacific division titles after he headed west.
In six tries — four with the Capitals and two with the Ducks — Boudreau hasn't gotten past the second round of the playoffs. There's no way to tiptoe around it. There are reasons and unhappy circumstances, good reasons in most cases.
In 2009-10 the Capitals chased Montreal's Carey Price in Game 4 of their first-round series but replacement Jaroslav Halak became a wall. Washington lost a 3-1 series lead and lost in seven. "We couldn't get a pea behind him," Boudreau said. In 2010-11 the Capitals beat the New York Rangers in the first round but lost three defensemen to injuries and then were swept by Tampa Bay. "That was the only time in the playoffs that I've been in, that there was any sort of negative playoff experience," Boudreau said.
He has coached the Ducks in a seven-game loss to Detroit in 2013, and a sluggish six-game victory over Dallas and a seven-game loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings last spring. Another inexplicably early playoff exit by the No. 1-seeded Ducks, who will face the No. 8 Winnipeg Jets starting Thursday at Honda Center, could trigger changes in Boudreau's job status and beyond.
"This is our third year with this group making the playoffs where there's some sort of expectations. I am going to watch very carefully not only the coaching staff, but how certain players play in the playoffs this year," General Manager Bob Murray told The Times Wednesday. "This is the third year and it's time.
"It's not just Bruce. The guys that have been here, it's time for some of them to step to the plate. I'm watching everybody. There's guys that haven't had good playoffs. It's time. They've got experience now. They've been there. It's time to step up."
The Ducks' last two playoff exits aren't Boudreau's fault alone; his reliance on quickly overwhelmed rookie goaltender John Gibson last spring, he said, wasn't solely his decision. But he can change the narrative now by taking a talented team deep into the playoffs in a season where there's no prohibitive Cup favorite.
Boudreau has some formidable tools. The Ducks' acquisition of standout two-way center Ryan Kesler last summer enables them to match up well against anyone and takes pressure off Ryan Getzlaf. Murray took a risk by revamping his defense just before the trade deadline, but it would have been a greater risk not to. Noting the current success of speedy teams, Murray added speed that allows the Ducks to compete whether the game is fast or physical. The Jets will push them on both fronts and they must react smartly.
"I feel pressure every time we get in the playoffs, quite frankly, because when you get in the playoffs you have to have the belief that you can win. And if you don't, there's usually ramifications on that," Boudreau said. "It's a tough business. But this is the best time of year."
He is aware of the blotch on his resume but won't let it define him. "I know, but I don't play the game," he said. "I think as a coaching staff we put a pretty good game plan together. But there's a lot of little factors that go into winning and losing.
"They can look at the minor leagues. I've won a couple of championships and in the seventh game too. So, I mean, it's weird. I don't have an answer for it. And if I worry about it, then it will affect the way you coach and I don't want it to do that."
Indications are he has players' support.
"You could look up and down the league and name a hundred coaches that have never even done close to what Bruce has done. So, Bruce is a good coach. He's done good things for us," Getzlaf said. "He's enabled us to put in a good game plan, those kinds of things, and now it's about execution. We've got to do it as a group. It's not on him. He's not going to win or lose us the playoffs, I'll tell you that much."
Forward Kyle Palmieri credited Boudreau for bringing out the best in everyone, not just top-tier players like Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
"He gets a lot out of guys. He puts guys in situations that give them an opportunity to succeed, and that's why you see so much success," Palmieri said.
"You look at his playoff record, you notice that the second round has been where it's at. But it's nothing that you say it's him or it's a curse or anything like that. I think everyone who has watched the playoffs, and I've watched the playoffs since I started getting into hockey, you realize it's something that you never know what's going to happen."
True enough. But this much is clear: Merely reaching the second round of the playoffs won't be enough to change the conversation about Boudreau or the Ducks.