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Boudreau holds no grudges, still rooting for Caps

by Dan Rosen
Just as he did from behind the Washington Capitals' bench for the last four years, Bruce Boudreau stood on his feet Tuesday night and watched his old team with an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Only this time, Boudreau was standing in his living room, and he couldn't quite figure out why he was such a ball of nerves.

Boudreau was fired by the Capitals on Monday, so he had nothing riding on the outcome of Dale Hunter's debut game. He could have been doing anything else and nobody would have blamed him.

"I stood up the whole game," Boudreau told during a phone interview Wednesday morning. "I never sat down once. I was more nervous (Tuesday) night than I was any other night. I told my wife, 'I don't know why I'm nervous, but I'm really nervous.' I wanted to see them succeed."

Boudreau will not stop rooting for the Capitals. He's tied too closely to those players and that organization to wish them anything but success.


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He does not hold a grudge against anyone, be it underperforming star players Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, GM George McPhee, who took his dream job away, President Dick Patrick or owner Ted Leonis.

"All I can do is thank those guys," Boudreau said. "They gave me an opportunity that nobody ever gave me before, and I think I ran with it pretty well. If it wasn't for the faith that George, Ted and Dick Patrick had in me, I would never have been able to do what I did. There are no grudges whatsoever. I would have loved to have been able to give the city a Stanley Cup."

He never could get the Capitals out of the second round of the playoffs, and this season, for the first time since Boudreau took over on Nov. 22, 2007, they started to head in the wrong direction. Washington's uninspired play in Boudreau's final 15 games, a 5-9-1 stretch, spelled the end of what was an otherwise successful four-year run in D.C. for the former minor-league lifer.

Boudreau became the fastest coach to reach 200 victories in NHL history. He led the Capitals to four straight Southeast Division titles and the Presidents' Trophy in 2010.

But he knew almost two weeks ago that he was coaching on borrowed time. Washington's 4-1 loss at Winnipeg on Nov. 17 was the first time Boudreau sensed that the team was no longer responding to him.

"There was just a lack of emotion, and I believe that because there was so much emotion thrown into the Nashville game (two days earlier) and we lost the Nashville game," Boudreau said. "When we played Nashville two nights before we played really, really hard and I thought we outplayed them, but we gave up two goals in the last four or so minutes after we fought so hard to get a 1-0 lead. Then when Winnipeg got the lead on us I just didn't think we had anything left to come back, but it was depressing that we didn't push in the third period.

"Usually teams that I have been associated with, we might not have won a lot of the games or all of the games, but we had a push. We didn't have that push there and that sort of worried me."

Washington followed up the loss in Winnipeg with a similarly depressing and lackluster 7-1 loss in Toronto. The Caps came home and beat Phoenix and Winnipeg to extend Boudreau's stay for at least another couple of games, but they lost to the Rangers and Sabres on back-to-back days this past weekend by a combined 11-4 and that was enough for McPhee to pull the plug.

"This wasn't a slump," McPhee said Monday. "You can ride out slumps. This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce. When you see that, as much as you don't want to make a change, you have to make a change."

When Boudreau came in for Glen Hanlon four years ago, his affable personality and offensive-minded approach gave the Capitals new life, enough for them to go from dead last in the NHL to Southeast Division champions in less than five months. However, after a disappointing first-round exit in the 2010 playoffs, Boudreau changed the Capitals style and adopted a more defensive approach.

Their offense suffered and the Capitals were eventually swept by Tampa Bay in the second round of the playoffs last spring. So he entered this season with the idea that he would take a more hard-line stance, meaning all the players would be held accountable for everything and it would be reflected in their ice time.

That backfired, too.

"I gotta believe you don't look back," Boudreau said. "I thought what we did was the right thing to do with the group we had, so I don't want to second-guess myself because you can do that in any situation all day long."

"All I can do is thank those guys. They gave me an opportunity that nobody ever gave me before, and I think I ran with it pretty well. If it wasn't for the faith that George (McPhee), Ted (Leonsis) and Dick Patrick had in me, I would never have been able to do what I did. There are no grudges whatsoever. I would have loved to have been able to give the city a Stanley Cup."
-- Bruce Boudreau

The most glaring problem Boudreau had was the lack of production he was getting from Ovechkin, who has just 8 goals this season after scoring a career-low 32 last season. Boudreau sliced into Ovechkin's ice time and even went as far as benching him for the final minutes of a game against Anaheim earlier this month in which the Capitals were pushing to score a late tying goal.

Boudreau, though, has said repeatedly in various other interviews that there was no rift between himself and Ovechkin. He expressed his belief in the Capitals' captain again on Wednesday.

"When you're not used to facing adversity, when things always work and they stop working, it's tough to handle it," Boudreau said of Ovechkin. "He'll figure it out. He's too good not to figure it out. When he does, watch out."

Boudreau also discussed his relationship with the Capitals' other star Russian goal scorer, Semin, who is on pace for a career-low 18 goals and 37 points. He said he communicated with Semin more this season than any other season, and he never felt the unpredictable right wing was uncoachable.

In fact, Boudreau, who made Semin a healthy scratch last week for the first time since his rookie season, used the word "misunderstood" to describe Semin, and added "the referees definitely don't like him and there are a lot of penalties he gets that are unwarranted, but he's got a reputation so he gets called."

Boudreau said Semin cares a great deal about winning, almost to a fault.

"Unfortunately when he took penalties he felt so much remorse," Boudreau said. "I mean, a couple of nights ago he took a penalty and said, 'I couldn't play anymore after that because I was so shaken up.' He cares, but things right now aren't bouncing for him.

"When you're used to doing something like scoring and you're not scoring, it wears on your mind, and I'm sure that's where it was with Alex. But I talked to him more this year than ever before and he talked to me more than ever before. We communicated well and he wanted to do a lot of things right."

So did Boudreau, and for most of his four years in Washington he did. The end might have come quicker than he anticipated, but that won't stop him from being nervous every time he watches the Capitals play.

At least, that is, until he lands another job behind a different NHL bench.

This is only his third day without a team, but Boudreau is ready if another general manager wants to make a change this season.

"I don't see why not. It's what I do," he said. "When I wasn't coaching the Caps all I was doing was watching NHL games anyway, so I have a pretty good read on most teams. It is what I do and it's the game I love, so I would love to jump right back into it at some point if given the opportunity."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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