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Southeast: Boudreau's great expectations

by Robert Picarello

Bruce Boudreau's Capitals are looking to become the first team in NHL history to make the playoffs after occupying 14th place. Caps video highlights
The Washington Capitals are looking to become the first team in NHL history to make the playoffs after occupying 14th place in the standings at the midpoint of the season.

Just getting to the postseason, though, won't sit well with Bruce Boudreau.

The Capitals' bench boss has greater expectations for his club than that. From the very moment he took over the Caps on Nov. 22, Boudreau believed that he was inheriting a team that had the ingredients in place to win a Stanley Cup.

As crazy as it sounds, the first-year NHL coach still thinks his squad has what it takes to bring a championship to Washington, even though his team was outside the playoffs after 78 games.

"Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, like everybody else's," Boudreau said. "And we look at Edmonton a couple of years ago, just squeaking in in the eighth (spot in the conference) and going to the (Stanley Cup) Final in seven games. So I mean, I don't think it's that far-fetched a goal."

"I never want to set the bar too low where you're only trying to make the playoffs,” Boudreau added. "I mean, if you don't shoot for the moon, to me, you're not shooting high enough. My biggest thing when I came in was, I don't know if it was challenging, but it was wanting them to believe that they are capable of doing it, (and) I still believe we are.

"We are not in a playoff position yet, but you know, I mean, we want to make the playoffs and we believe we are going to be there, but the Stanley Cup is our prize. Even though people outside of our dressing room would firmly believe that if we made the playoffs, it would be a great accomplishment."

On one hand it's hard to believe a rookie coach would be talking about winning a Cup when his team hasn't even qualified for the playoffs yet, but then again, no one should doubt Boudreau's word or his ability. In a short period of time, he has turned the Capitals from pretenders to contenders.

Before Boudreau got the call-up from Hershey, the Capitals' American Hockey League affiliate, the Caps were a struggling bunch under Glen Hanlon, going 6-14-1 through 21 games. Under Boudreau's watch, Washington is 33-17-7 in 57 games. In the first 48 games of Boudreau's tenure, the Capitals failed to lose back-to-back games, which is the longest such streak in the NHL this season.

"He has great coaching instincts," Washington General Manager George McPhee said. "When he's on the bench, it's not unlike a hockey player who has great hockey sense. They can make good decisions on the fly. There are people that sort of learn the game and there are people that just know it and just have it. Bruce is one of the guys that had great hockey sense as a player and who has great instincts on the bench."

Boudreau's instincts have improved the Caps in so many different areas. For example, Washington has risen from 24th in the NHL on the power play when Boudreau was hired to seventh (19.2 percent). The Capitals have gone 15-9-4 on the road since Boudreau took over, putting them at 19-16-5 away from home this season; it's their best road record since they won 22 games in the 1993-94 season. The club is 14-11-3 against the Southeast Division this year, with 11 of those victories coming under Boudreau. The Capitals are 9-4 in March, their fourth straight month with a .500 or better record, and their longest such stretch since a five-month streak from November 1985 through March 1986. Boudreau was the fastest Capitals coach to 20 wins (34 games) and the quickest all-time to 30 wins (53 games).

Only time will tell if he will become the first head coach to lead the Capitals to a Stanley Cup. In order to do that, Boudreau first has to get Washington into the postseason dance.

"I'm usually watching the race for the Stanley Cup," Boudreau admitted. "And now, sometimes I pinch myself that we're in it. But the players don't need any motivation, and at the same time, young men get complacent and they need somebody to push them. I think that we don't allow them as a coaching staff to get too complacent. We want to push-push-push, which is, I think, what we do every day. The last two weeks have been pretty exciting."

Who's hot – Florida's David Booth entered the weekend with points in four straight games. The Panthers forward has a goal and three assists during the run, including his career-high 21st goal, scored Tuesday night in a 3-1 loss to the Lightning. …Tampa Bay's Filip Kuba has posted five points in his last four games. Before scoring a goal in a 3-1 win over Florida on Tuesday, the Lightning defenseman recorded back-to-back two-point games, against the Penguins and Panthers. … Atlanta's Slava Kozlov has recorded five points in his last six games, posting two goals and three assists. … Carolina's Eric Staal has registered 18 points in his last 10 games. During the streak, the Hurricanes' center has registered five goals and 13 assists, including four three-point games. … Washington's Alex Ovechkin was named the NHL's First Star of the Week for the second time in three weeks and for the third time this season. He led all scorers with seven points (three goals, four assists) in three games last week, as the Caps won two of three games to start their six-game road trip. In a 3-2 shootout victory against the Hurricanes in Carolina on Tuesday, Ovechkin set the club record for goals in a season when he scored his 61st.

Southeast Quotes – "There has been some pretty good teams the last couple of years come out of our division. But right now, for us, we're just focused on getting back into the playoffs, getting back to where we should be and where we expect to be."

"By hook or by crook, it doesn't matter how we get in or what position we get in, we just want to get in." - Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau
– Carolina's Eric Staal, on the lack of respect the Southeast Division gets every year around playoff time.

"By hook or by crook, it doesn't matter how we get in or what position we get in, we just want to get in."

– Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau, in regard to the Capitals qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A look ahead – On March 28, the Atlanta Thrashers are in Carolina. On March 29, the Washington Capitals travel to Florida and the Hurricanes are in Tampa Bay. On March 31, the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Atlanta Thrashers.

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