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Bruce Boudreau gets Wild back to work

Minnesota coach skips day off at former home to prepare for game against League-leading Capitals

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- There were deja vu moments waiting all around Kettler Capitals Iceplex for Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on Monday.

In fact, Boudreau couldn't remember if this was his first or second time on the ice at the Washington Capitals practice rink since he was fired by the Capitals 22 games into the 2011-12 season. Boudreau has been back to Verizon Center, where the Wild will face the Capitals on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; SNP, CSN-DC, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV), when he coached the Anaheim Ducks, but visits to the practice rink are rare when Western Conference teams make their one trip to the Washington area each season.

Regardless, Boudreau said "tons of" memories come back to him whenever he returns.

"This was, at the time, the greatest place in the world for me," he said Monday. "It was the first chance I got to coach in the NHL and the people, [former Capitals general manager] George McPhee, treated me unbelievable. I'll never forget it."

Boudreau coached the Capitals for five seasons, winning four division titles, before being fired on Nov. 28, 2011, with Washington off to a 12-9-1 start. He was hired by the Ducks two days later and guided them to four consecutive division titles, but following a seven-game series loss to the Nashville Predators in the 2016 Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he was fired.

Again, Boudreau wasn't out of work for long and now has the Wild (43-18-6, 92 points) in first place the Western Conference. But they've struggled a bit since their five-day break, going 4-4-0 in their past eight games, including a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday.

So instead of having the day off on Monday, as originally planned, the Wild were on the ice. They'll take their day off on Friday, after they get back from their five-game road trip.

"We haven't practiced in so long I just thought we needed a practice," Boudreau said. "We just switched days off. … I just asked them if they minded practicing [Monday] instead of Friday and they said, 'Yes.' They wanted it too, so here we are."

The players thought the change was a good idea.

"We talked to Bruce that it would be better to have the day [off] on Friday, which is good for everybody having it at home," goaltender Devan Dubnyk said. "The schedule was weird. We don't need a day off. Early game [Sunday] and game off [Monday], that's kind of weird. Plus, we might not be skating [Tuesday] morning depending on this weather, so it's good to get out there."

A snowstorm expected to hit the area Monday into Tuesday was another concern for the Wild and another source of deja vu for Boudreau.

Boudreau was in town with the Ducks to face the Capitals on Jan. 22, 2016, and the game was postponed because of a snowstorm. It appears unlikely that will happen again Tuesday with snow expected to end in the morning, but the Wild didn't take any chances.

"The goalies haven't seen any shots in practice and, especially with the potential storm coming up where the pregame skate could be canceled, we thought this was a smart move," Boudreau said.

Dubnyk will be back in net for the Wild on Tuesday after giving up goals on the first two shots he faced and being pulled against the Blackhawks. To hear Dubnyk talk Monday, that game is already well in his rearview mirror.

Video: MIN@FLA: Dubnyk makes clutch shoulder save on Ekblad

"I'm always trying to prepare and give these guys the best game consistently every night," he said. "Whether we won with a 40-save shutout or I let in two [goals] on two [shots], that doesn't change what I'm going to do and how I'm going to prepare for [Tuesday]."

The Wild, who will be without Martin Hanzal (illness) for the second straight game, thought they played pretty well on Sunday. They outshot the Blackhawks 44-22 but couldn't solve goaltender Corey Crawford often enough to overcome their early deficit.

Still, the Wild believe they can play better.

"From the way we've played the last little while, I definitely think there is a level that we've got to get back to," left wing Zach Parise said. "I think we were playing at that level. We've got to get back to that. We're going to be playing teams that are going to be trying to get in [the playoffs], trying to get home-ice [advantage]. Every team has got their story."

The Capitals' story is they are 44-17-7 with 95 points and in first place in the Eastern Conference and League standings, but they have been going through a malaise similar to the Wild. They are 5-6-1 since their five-day break, including four consecutive losses in regulation.

That makes the game Tuesday more about two teams each trying to find its best game than a matchup of the two conference leaders.

"I just think it's lack of practice, losing a little bit of your habits and the time of the year and our sense of urgency," Boudreau said. "Whether it's the Caps or whether it's us, it's not there, yet. When you have to win the games, I think you'll see these teams step up and play really good hockey."

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