The list of three has grown by one in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette the newest member to join an exclusive club.
By getting the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final, Laviolette has joined, in order, Dick Irvin, Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan as a coach who has guided three teams -- four, in Bowman's case -- to the postseason's championship round.
"Probably means that I got fired a lot," Laviolette joked Monday after the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks in six games in the Western Conference Final, his joining the elite coaching club mentioned to him in the wake of victory.
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Kidding aside, Laviolette's work to take the Predators to the Final is an impressive feat seeing that his team, now four victories from the first Stanley Cup title in its history, was the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.
Irvin was first to turn the three-team trick. He took the 1931 Chicago Black Hawks (then two words) to the best-of-five Final, before leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Final seven times from 1932-40 and the Montreal Canadiens eight times from 1944-55. He won one Stanley Cup title with Toronto and three with Montreal.
Bowman led the expansion St. Louis Blues to the Final three times from 1968-70, the Canadiens on five occasions from 1973-79, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992 and finally the Detroit Red Wings four times from 1995-2002. The winningest coach in NHL history (1,244 victories), Bowman won five Cup titles with Montreal, one with Pittsburgh and three with Detroit.
Keenan was the most recent to join the club, advancing to the Final with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1985 and 1987, the Blackhawks in 1992 (unsuccessfully against Bowman), and the New York Rangers in 1994, bringing the Stanley Cup to Broadway.
Laviolette's first trip to the Final was victorious, with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. He went again in 2010 with the Flyers, losing to the Blackhawks, and now has advanced with the Predators.
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More than any coach, Bowman knows the grind it is to get a chance to win the Stanley Cup following a punishing regular season that seems like a church picnic compared to the intensity of the playoffs. In 13 trips to the Final, he won an NHL-record nine championships with a .621 winning percentage -- 36 victories and 22 losses in Stanley Cup Final games.
Bowman was in his final year in 2001-02 when Laviolette still was wet behind the ears, a rookie coach with the New York Islanders. They faced each other twice that season, and Bowman's Red Wings won each time -- 5-4 in overtime and 2-1.
If they're not close personally, Bowman's keen eye has seen and been impressed by Laviolette's work; as Chicago's long-serving senior adviser of hockey operations, he watched the Predators shockingly sweep the Blackhawks in the first round.
"I think [Laviolette] has always been a guy who likes offense," Bowman said. "A coach can use two styles -- you can play an offensive game or, if you don't have a lot of (offensive) talent, you try to play defense. Peter likes his defense to go up. He's got [P.K.] Subban, [Mattias] Ekholm, [Roman] Josi and [Ryan] Ellis. During the season, they played a pretty up-tempo game, but when they played Chicago in the first round, Laviolette played very passively.
"If you play a high-powered offensive team, you make it tough on them to score. He likes to push the offense, but against Chicago, they clogged up the middle. Chicago couldn't get through the middle at all, the Predators playing something like the way the Ottawa Senators do.
"People criticize that, but if it's successful …" Bowman said, the sentence left unfinished. "I know when I started in St. Louis (in 1967-68), we had excellent goaltending, some experienced players and some really good defensive players, and when we played the Eastern teams, we played Kitty-bar-the-door. We played a solid defensive game and we had great goaltending. But when I left there to go to Montreal (in 1972-73), we had a bunch of great offensive players. We had the puck a lot, so we didn't try to play defensively."
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Bowman recalls hearing nothing when he joined Irvin, a coach he greatly admired, as one of only two men to take three NHL teams to the Stanley Cup Final, saying that statistics of that nature were virtually untracked in those days.
Whereas Bowman began his coaching career in a freshly expanded 12-team NHL, he looks at today's 30-, soon to be 31-team league and says, "It's a lot easier to get knocked off before the Final now than it was 10, 20, 30, even 40 years ago. There are more teams, much more parity. There's the salary cap, salary disclosure, every player has an agent, (statistical) comparables (for contract negotiation), hard travel and often more injuries."
Laviolette's first game in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final will be his 14th coached in the ultimate playoff round, which trails Bowman by 44 -- the equivalent of more than six full seven-game series. If it's the Penguins who advance Thursday to face the Predators for the championship, Bowman expects to be on hand for at least some of the action in Pittsburgh, which is a short drive from his upstate New York summer home.
"Laviolette adapts pretty good," he said in praise of the newest member of coaching's elite club. "He can change styles, and you have to do that depending on who you play, especially in the playoffs."