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Boudreau turned Caps around, couldn't capture Cup

by Adam Kimelman
When Bruce Boudreau first arrived in Washington, he was best known for his effusive personality and a small role in the hockey classic "Slap Shot."

Just over four years later, he leaves Washington as one of the most successful coaches in League history, but one who seemingly had lost the ability to motivate his players.

Boudreau was fired by the Capitals on Monday during a dismal 3-7-1 stretch, capped by a 5-1 loss Saturday in Buffalo to a Sabres team missing nine regulars and dressing six players who started the season in the American Hockey League.

It was a disappointing end to what could be considered the most successful span in team history.


Boudreau's tenure comes to end

Adam Kimelman - Staff Writer
The Washington Capitals relieved head coach Bruce Boudreau of his duties Monday morning and replaced him with former NHLer and Capital fan favorite Dale Hunter. READ MORE ›
In his first four seasons, Boudreau led the Caps to four Southeast Division titles, three 100-point seasons and franchise records of 54 wins and 121 points in winning the organization its first Presidents' Trophy.

With a record of 201-88-40 in 329 games, Boudreau was the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 200 regular-season wins.

He started that run to League history in his first game, Nov. 23, 2007, with a 4-3 overtime win in Philadelphia.

Boudreau had been promoted from the team's AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, a day earlier, and upon first glimpse, third-year forward Alex Ovechkin presaged what was to come.

"He's a more offensive coach," he told the Washington Post. "He tells us shoot the puck more, move quickly."

Ovechkin was the biggest beneficiary of Boudreau's new up-tempo, attacking system, finishing the 2007-08 season with a career-best and League-leading 65 goals, and he won the first of two Hart trophies.

The Caps were 30th in the League when Boudreau was hired, but with a new voice behind the bench, went 37-17-7 to win their first division title since 2001 and finish third in the Eastern Conference. Boudreau was rewarded with the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.

The excitement returned to Washington as the Verizon Center became a rocking, sold-out sea of red. And Boudreau, who earned the nickname "Gabby" for his positive personality, became a star.

In the 2008 postseason, the Caps rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers to force Game 7 on home ice, but lost in overtime.

With the interim tag removed from his title, Boudreau showed he wasn't a one-season wonder. During the 2008-09 season, the Capitals had three separate five-game win streaks, including a seven-game run in December and January, en route to a franchise-best 50 wins and 108 points.

They won the Southeast again and finished second in the conference, but again struggled in the first round of the playoffs, needing to rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the Rangers to force Game 7 at home, which they won 2-1.

That led to a remarkable seven-game second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins that captivated the League. Ovechkin and the Pens' Sidney Crosby asserted their individual dominance, but in Game 7 in Washington, it was the Caps again coming up short, including a first-period breakaway for Ovechkin that died in the glove of Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
"He's a more offensive coach. He tells us shoot the puck more, move quickly." -- Alex Ovechkin on Bruce Boudreau
For the 2009-10 season, Boudreau kicked the Caps into another gear offensively. They scored 313 goals -- 45 more than any other team in the League. Their 3.82 goals-per-game average was more than a half-goal better than any team in the League. They won 14 straight games in January and February and cruised to a third-straight division title. They finished with League-highs of 54 wins and 121 points, bettering the franchise marks from a season ago, and won the first Presidents' Trophy in team history.

However, another playoff disappointment followed. After going up 3-1 against the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, they scored just one goal in each of the next three games, and lost another Game 7 on home ice.

Entering the 2010-11 season, Boudreau promised a more defensively-responsible playing style. The Caps struggled to adapt early, including an eight-game winless streak in December, which was magnified by the glow of HBO cameras for the "24/7" show that was part of the build-up to the 2011 Winter Classic.

However, the Caps figured things out, and by the end of the season won their fourth straight division title, posted their third straight 100-point season and finished atop the Eastern Conference.

They ran through the New York Rangers in the first round, winning in five games, but again suffered playoff disappointment, getting swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Despite rumblings that his job was in jeopardy then, Boudreau was retained and the Caps started the 2011-12 season with seven straight wins. Things got off-track after that, however, and they went just 5-9-1 since then.

In line with struggles by the team was an offensive drop-off by his biggest star -- Ovechkin had a career-low 32 goals last season and just 8 goals in 22 games this season, and the pair got into a bit of an argument on the bench during a game Nov. 1 against Anaheim, in which Boudreau benched his superstar late in the third period with the Capitals down by a goal.

Boudreau also had issues with forwards Alexander Semin and Joel Ward, both of whom were made recent scratches, and forward Mike Knuble, who for a time was demoted to the fourth line.

However, Boudreau's legacy won't be about the few down times. What will be remembered is how, in five years, he turned the Caps from a middle-of-the-road team to an elite club and Cup contender.

"Bruce was a popular personality who helped turn around our franchise," Capitals owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog. "Despite what transpired on the ice this year, I always will be thankful for Bruce's time with the Capitals and will remember him fondly."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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