ST. PAUL, Minn. — Another prosperous NHL regular season has ended for Bruce Boudreau. Now with Minnesota, and in his ninth trip to the playoffs, comes the hard part.
One of the most unique characters to color the NHL coaching ranks and one of the game’s true player-friendly coaches, Boudreau has the best regular season record of any of his current peers. No head coach in the history of the league who has lasted more than three years has a better points percentage than Boudreau with his .658 mark from 458 wins, 217 regulation losses and 88 overtime or shootout losses.
Since he landed his first such NHL job early in the 2007-08 season with Washington, Boudreau has been to the playoffs every year but one. That was 2011-12, after he was hired by Anaheim on the heels of his firing by the Capitals.
“He’s a great coach. There’s no other way to put it,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He knows hockey. He knows how to get guys to work hard. He expects a lot out of guys, and they play hard for him.”
Yes, even in those ill-fated Game 7s, when he’s just 1-7 — part of a lackluster playoff record that hangs over any discussion of Boudreau at this time of year.
The Minnesota Wild, after just seven months of playing for him, are determined to make this Boudreau’s best postseason experience yet.
“You can’t sit there and say that a guy can’t win in playoffs. He’s coaching the team the same way,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We’re going to try our best not to think about that and to focus on just winning.”
The Wild, who start the Western Conference quarterfinals at home on Wednesday against St. Louis, didn’t just make the playoffs for a fifth straight year. They set a franchise record with 106 points, going 49-25-8. The season included a troubling monthlong skid, with a 4-11-2 stretch minimized by a four-game winning streak to finish the schedule last week, but it also featured a 12-game winning streak during December.
“When we’re skating, when we’re pressuring the puck all over the ice, we like to think we give ourselves a good chance to win every game,” defenseman Marco Scandella said. “Our `D’ are mobile. They have the ability to break the puck out on their own. When we’re going well, we’re a tough team to beat.”
This is just the second time in eight appearances in the playoffs that the Wild have had home-ice advantage in the first round. They’re 4-7 all time in series.
Boudreau is 5-8, with only one trip past the second round. That came in 2014-15 with the Ducks, who reached the Western Conference finals. Only twice in these nine trips to the playoffs has Boudreau’s team finished lower than second in its conference. With four each with Washington and Anaheim, this is the only time the 62-year-old Boudreau has entered the postseason without a division title.
His own unfulfilled playing career, with parts of six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the apex, has helped fuel his drive. He’s confident enough in himself and his status to quickly make a joke at his own expense. When his team has been underachieving or struggling, Boudreau has been known to be moody, unable or unwilling to hide his emotions. Perhaps his deep passion for winning and seeing his players succeed has ultimately hurt him.
“Bruce has high expectations of himself. I know the hockey world holds high expectations of him because of how good he does in the regular season,” said Edmonton Oilers center Matt Hendricks, who played for Boudreau with the Capitals. “You would believe with those records that he has and the championships that he has in the regular season that they should translate into Stanley Cups, and that’s not always the way it is. There’s only one team that wins at the end of every season, and it’s usually the team that’s playing the best at that time of the year.”
As fluky and unpredictable as results in the playoffs can be in this sport, the contrast between Boudreau’s regular season and postseason record is stark. Thus, it’s an unavoidable topic in the story of his winding career that has encompassed employment with a whopping 25 professional hockey teams , from Adirondack to Mississippi to San Francisco.
Boudreau was asked the day before training camp began how the feeling-out period went with previous teams as his players have adapted to his personality.
“Ah, I think it’s worked pretty well,” Boudreau said, pausing for effect. “Until Game 7.”