Maybe a man who has steered his teams to six regular-season division titles but never gotten one past a second-round playoff series is supposed to keep quiet about his longing to hold the Stanley Cup.
That’ll never be Bruce Boudreau.
The Ducks coach, who will lead his Western Conference top-seeded team into the postseason Wednesday night against the wild-card Dallas Stars, unabashedly has obsessed about the best-known trophy in sports.
“Think about it every single day of my life,” Boudreau told The Times on Monday. “When I’m by myself, when I take a walk … since I’ve been 10 years old.
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s not a question of the will and the want not being there. It’s a question of, sometimes you’ve got the opportunity and you’ve got to make good on it.”
Banking now on a deep mix of players who’ve enjoyed career seasons — including captain Ryan Getzlaf, seven-year veteran center Andrew Cogliano and 25-year-old center Nick Bonino — Boudreau has his best chance at hockey’s holy grail.
Earlier this season, the 59-year-old coach — who devoted 20 years to playing professional hockey and savored just 141 games in the NHL — reached 300 regular-season victories faster than any coach in league history.
“Bruce has put in a good strategy and game plan for us and it’s up to us to do it,” Ducks center Mathieu Perreault said. “It’s a matter of us being at our best, doing the right things.”
Perreault was also in those Washington Capitals dressing rooms where Boudreau once implored his multitalented club to win — in bold, colorful language that was captured on film by HBO.
Washington won four consecutive division crowns from 2008 to 2011 but was eliminated in the first, second, first and second rounds those years.
The most wrenching defeat was the 2009 Game 7 loss to eventual champion Pittsburgh, a series in which the Capitals lost three overtime games.
“We had basically no playoff knowledge the first couple years,” Perreault said. “We battled hard — look at those series, we lost in seven games every year — but there was no push from anyone who’d ever been there like we have here: Teemu [Selanne], Saku [Koivu], Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry, guys who’ve won everywhere they’ve gone.”
With the playoff fades a factor, the Capitals fired Boudreau during the 2011-12 season. The Ducks quickly snapped him up. Washington missed the playoffs this season.
Boudreau’s postseason pain returned last May, however, when the Ducks followed their Pacific Division title with a first-round, Game 7 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
“I have a hard time putting my finger on the reasoning, because anything I say looks like an excuse,” Boudreau said of the rash of early exits.
“You’re numb, don’t know what to do. The hardest thing is thanking the players for what they did because you don’t even feel like talking, and you just never want to go through that again. Winning is … the hardest thing in the world.”
The task of reconciling those defeats comes in transforming mistakes into wisdom. For instance, the coach has put more emphasis on intently matching lines during games and traveling to road cities a day early to practice.
The Ducks (54-20-8) set a franchise record for road victories (25) and goals (266) and, unlike last year’s mediocre regular-season finish, they closed on a 9-2-1 run that included victories over San Jose, the Kings and second-seeded Colorado.
Getzlaf knew questions about Boudreau’s failure to orchestrate a deep playoff run were coming.
“We’re aware of it; watch everyone talk about it until we get through this first round,” Getzlaf said. “With Bruce, it’s a matter of the guys care. He cares about the players. And we’re ready to show that.”
Boudreau, a dedicated follower of the NHL who typically watches games on nights the Ducks aren’t playing, has heard the national media speculation that his team could be ripe for another upset.
There are some causes for concern. The Ducks, who lost two of three to Dallas during the season, are relying on young defensemen Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm. They will be missing injured tough guy Tim Jackman, and have shaken up the goalie rotation as primary starter Jonas Hiller faded with a 6-9-3 finish and didn’t play the last four games. Rookies John Gibson (3-0) and Frederik Anderson (20-5) were starters the last four games and seemed to have passed Hiller on the depth chart.
“I know what everyone’s going to say if we lose,” Boudreau said.
Yet, he insists he’s better equipped for these playoffs because of the painful past, when he would overanalyze an opponent. Don’t hammer the players with 20 instruction points, he says now, when two main points will suffice. If forward Kyle Palmieri had three goals and two assists in the playoffs last year, he reasons, increase his minutes.
Palmieri laughed off the suggestion his coach is snakebit or cursed, remembering the “lucky bounces” Detroit needed to beat the Ducks.
“We’re going out this year and no one has a doubt in their mind that we have what it takes to win the Cup,” Palmieri said.
For Boudreau, that would fulfill the everyday mission that has stuck in his head for nearly 50 years now.
“You hope you get the breaks,” Boudreau said. “It’d be nice if we succeeded because things wouldn’t be said about me anymore, but I think my record speaks for itself as to whether I’ve been successful or not.”
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