The Anaheim Ducks
' record has improved substantially since Bruce Boudreau
took over as coach on Nov. 30, and that doesn't surprise Pittsburgh Penguins
forward Matt Cooke
in the least.
During the last five years, the Penguins and Boudreau's former team, the Washington Capitals
, maintained one of the NHL's best and most competitive rivalries outside of division play.
With Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
leading Pittsburgh and Alex Ovechkin
a threat to score in every game for Washington, Capitals-Penguins games often were among the highlights of every regular season.
Pittsburgh's come-from-behind victory in a memorable seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal in 2009, when the Capitals won the first two games at home and Game 6 in Pittsburgh, yet couldn't win the series, helped propel the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup in 17 years.
The Penguins won't see Boudreau nearly as much now that he is coaching in the Western Conference, but they know what to expect Wednesday night at the Consol Energy Center.
The Ducks are 16-11-5 since Boudreau replaced former Stanley Cup winner Randy Carlyle
as coach following a 6-13-4 start. They are 13-2-3 in their last games, gaining at least a point in 16 of 18 games, and they've moved to within eight points of the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
"They're in desperation mode. They are making a push to get into the playoffs. They didn’t have the start that they wanted, but they've played unbelievable the last 18-20 games," Cooke said. "I give Bruce credit and the team credit for responding to a new coach. We're going to have to be at our best to beat them."
Before Dale Hunter
replaced him in Washington, Boudreau's Capitals beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime Oct. 13 at Consol.
The Ducks, who are 6-1-3 in their last 10 road games, won 2-1 at Minnesota on Tuesday night. They did not practice in advance of their first game in Pittsburgh over the last two seasons.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
has opposed Boudreau's teams regularly, dating back to their time together when Bylsma coached for the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) farm club and Boudreau was with Hershey.
"I see some Bruce Boudreau
coaching in their team, how they are playing," Bylsma said. "They've always been tough games. I think Bruce has had great teams and great success. You see that now in his record. His teams are playing really hard and playing really well. … We're expecting a team that’s playing really well and coming at you in a lot of different ways."