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Boudreau's return to Washington brings memories

by Adam Vingan

WASHINGTON -- Though Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau may have set foot in Verizon Center on Sunday morning for the first time in more than two years, remnants of his five seasons as coach of the Washington Capitals abound throughout the arena.

They adorn the rafters, where banners honoring four Southeast Division titles and one Presidents' Trophy serve as ornamental reminders of the Capitals' resurrection under Boudreau's watch.

They fill the stands, where the expectations of a rejuvenated fan base clad in red jerseys, initially captivated by an exciting brand of firewagon hockey, have grown exponentially since Boudreau took over in Nov. 2007.

"What he did for hockey in Washington was tremendous," said Capitals forward Brooks Laich, who played for Boudreau at both the NHL and American Hockey League levels. "He put it front and center, exciting offense, developed the players into the stars they are today. I think the town really owes him a lot."

As Boudreau walks through the tunnel and onto the visitors' bench ahead of the Ducks' game against the Capitals on Monday evening, he will be engulfed by a wave of memories.

"I don't want to anticipate anything, quite frankly," Boudreau said. "It's going to be nerve-racking going on the bench for the first [time]. It's going to be really exciting to see all the red again. I used to think that was a great memory when jerseys weren't there and then all of a sudden, the next thing you know, you have 18,000 people wearing red. I thought that was all cool, so that'll be an interesting memory."

When Boudreau first arrived in Washington on Thanksgiving Day six years ago, he inherited a 6-14-1 team entrenched in last place in the League. With a roster full of untapped potential, Boudreau unleashed the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, allowing them to take over games by sheer force of offensive will.

"The players were ready to break out," Boudreau said modestly. "They had good players that were just sort of stuck in a rut and maybe I gave them a little push."

Reinvigorated, the Capitals won 37 of 61 games under Boudreau that season (including 14 of their last 18), clinching their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth since 2003 in their final game and becoming the first NHL team to qualify for the playoffs after sitting in 14th or lower in the conference at the midway point of the season. Boudreau won the Jack Adams Award as a result of the Capitals' unprecedented turnaround.

Washington's newfound winning ways carried over into subsequent seasons as few teams could stand toe-to-toe with the juggernaut the Capitals had become.

"Once he came, it flipped and we made the playoffs, we were winning divisions to having Stanley Cup aspirations," Laich said. "And that's not an easy thing to do. That's a long road and he did it very quickly."

Anaheim is undergoing a similar renaissance with Boudreau at the helm. When the Ducks hired Boudreau only two days after the Capitals dismissed him, they were off to an inexplicably slow start, leading only the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Western Conference. Utilizing the same techniques that made him successful with the Capitals, particularly his emphasis on creating open lines of communication and building rapport with players, the Ducks are flying high as the League's best team entering Monday.

"He's pretty much the same," said Ducks center Mathieu Perreault, who witnessed both teams' reversals of fortune with Boudreau as a former member of the Capitals. "He hasn't changed. He runs things the same, he treats his players the same. He had a lot of success in Washington. The way he runs this team has been working really well with the group of guys we have here."

Boudreau realizes the bond he created with his former players, many of whom he coached all the way back to the AHL, will last forever, but once the game gets underway on Monday, he will try his best to focus his attention on extending Anaheim's franchise-record eight-game winning streak by any means necessary.

"I'm sure at the end of the season or something, I'll see a couple of them or talk to them," Boudreau said of the Capitals. "But right now, I won't even look over at them tonight. Not once. I'll be too afraid."

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