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Ducks' Boudreau in conference final for first time

by Corey Masisak /

ANAHEIM -- Minutes after one of the biggest victories of his professional coaching career Sunday, Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was honest, self-deprecating, insightful and folksy, everything he's been known for during a long and successful life in hockey.

He's also been known to do a lot of winning. He's won championships in the American Hockey League and ECHL, reached the finals of the International Hockey League, and became the fastest coach to 300 victories in the NHL. But the level of postseason success he expects, and people expect of his teams after witnessing their regular-season excellence, has eluded him in the NHL.

The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs may change that. After the Ducks defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2 in overtime Sunday to win the best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series in five games, Boudreau has coached a team to the conference final for the first time in eight seasons in the NHL.

The Ducks will play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.

"It's a relief that I won't get asked that question anymore," Boudreau said about failing to advance past the second round. "I'm sure now it will be, 'Well, you've never been to the Cup Final.' For tonight I'm really happy that question won't be asked of me too often anymore."

Winning two rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the halfway point in a journey to a championship, but it is something of an unofficial line of demarcation for a successful season in most NHL cities. Very rarely does a team reach the conference final and consider the season a failure. For someone to reach that point in the postseason for the first time is a big deal.

It took time for Boudreau in the AHL; he needed three stops and seven seasons to advance beyond the second round. He won the Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears in 2005-06 and reached to the Calder Cup Final the following season.

Boudreau has found success at the NHL level, mostly before the calendar reaches May. He won the Jack Adams Award for rescuing the Washington Capitals from 30th place on Thanksgiving Day and leading them to a division title in 2008.

He's won seven division titles in eight seasons; the only season he didn't was 2011-12, when Washington fired him and he was hired by Anaheim a few days later. His teams have lost playoff series in grueling fashion: in Game 7 five times, including twice in the second round.

The past two seasons with the Ducks have ended with a Game 7 loss at Honda Center, including one in the second round to the rival Los Angeles Kings in 2014. Anaheim is in the conference final for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007.

"It's a huge step for [Boudreau] and for our organization," Ducks forward Corey Perry said. "It's been eight years since we're back here. It's a good feeling."

One of Boudreau's favorite photos was taken shortly after Hershey scored in overtime of Game 7 of the 2006 eastern conference final. Forward Eric Fehr, now with the Washington Capitals, scored to put Hershey into the Calder Cup Final and the team is celebrating at one end of the ice.

Boudreau is jumping, arms raised in elation, near a mass of hockey players. He has joked about his vertical leap in this situation before, but that photo did capture him with both feet off the ground.

"Relieved," Boudreau said when asked about Perry's overtime goal Sunday. "It was pretty cool. I was telling the guys in there that I thought I was pretty calm during the third period and overtime, and then [Francois Beauchemin] and I jumped a solid 4 inches, and then I thought well, maybe I'm not so calm, I'd better settle down here."

Not pictured on that night in central Pennsylvania were Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, two players on the opposing team, the Portland Pirates. Fehr was selected 18th in the 2003 NHL Draft, one pick before Getzlaf and 10 before Perry, and he helped Boudreau reach the top of the AHL.

Now Getzlaf and Perry, who were on the wrong end of that game in Hershey nine years ago, are in the NHL's final four and trying to help Boudreau reach the summit in this League.


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