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Boudreau's sole focus: Bringing the Stanley Cup to Minnesota

Veteran coach, hockey lifer has accomplished almost everything there is in the game, except win the ultimate prize

by Dan Myers @DanMyers / Wild.com

This story, part of Wild.com's 2018-19 season preview, also appears in the October 2018 issue of Wild Magazine.

Generally speaking, Bruce Boudreau has it pretty good. 

He's got four children whom he adores and who adore him. 

He's got a loving, supportive wife. 

He's paid millions of dollars to coach the sport he's loved his entire life. 

He owns a beautiful home and a junior hockey team, runs a successful hockey camp and is widely considered one of the very best at what he does on a daily basis.

Bruce Boudreau has it pretty good. But he doesn't have everything.

To find what's missing, take a look at the man cave inside his Woodbury home. Inside are countless photographs and memories, awards and trophies from a career spent inside the sport of hockey.
 

[Single-game tickets for 2018-19 season now available]
 

There's first goals, and autographed jerseys, plaques and championship rings from nearly every level of minor league hockey. 

But there is one spot on the mantle that remains empty, waiting for the day when Boudreau can live out a dream he's replayed in his head thousands of times over the years.

It's waiting for the one thing that remains elusive in his storied career inside the game: the Stanley Cup.

"It fuels me every single day," Boudreau said. "I told [Wild owner] Craig [Leipold] when I got this job, 'It's the only thing I think about.'"

The sheer notion that Boudreau hasn't lucked into a Stanley Cup at some point in his four-plus decade career in the game as both a player and a coach proves just how elusive the trophy can be. 

Boudreau has never been handed anything. In 20 years as a player, he suited up in just 141 NHL games, toiling for years in the American Hockey League as one of its best players of all time. 

As soon as his playing career was over, Boudreau entered coaching, winning a championship in his eighth year as a head coach with the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL.

That led to a promotion to the AHL, where Boudreau led the Hershey Bears to a Calder Cup in 2006, in his seventh season behind the bench in that league.

Two other times, Boudreau has lost in the finals of a championship series, including in 2007 with Hershey. 

But despite being one of the winningest coaches in NHL history, Boudreau hasn't even sniffed a Stanley Cup Final, much less a shot at hoisting the Cup.

But that's not to say he hasn't thought about what that moment will be like.

"I've often thought about, would I pull a Herb Brooks and go into the shower and just have it be by myself?" Boudreau said. "But in the Calder Cup, when we won, I ran on the ice when the players jumped on the ice and I jumped right into the crowd of players. That was pretty awesome. I did that in the ECHL too.

"I think I'd be a little more restrained with the Stanley Cup, but it always puts a smile on my face when you're reminiscing and dreaming about that."

While fans at home often watch in awe as teams parade around the sheet of ice with the Cup in hand, Boudreau stews inside, filled with jealousy.

That was especially the case last spring when the Washington Capitals - his former team - won their first Stanley Cup. 

"I want that to happen here. Obviously, I'd like to have it happen for me," Boudreau said. "But there are so many people around that you love who have been in your corner for so long that would take so much pride and joy in being able to share it with you."

Along the way, Boudreau has had a couple of close calls.

As a player, perhaps the most heartbreaking season was 1978-79 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the semifinals, the Leafs lost to their rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, each game by one goal. The Canadiens would go on to win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup that season.

"That would have been pretty cool because Toronto would have been a crazy place to win a cup," Boudreau said of his hometown.

As a head coach in the NHL, Boudreau has been bounced from the playoffs three times by the team that eventually went on to win the Cup.

All three times, the series went seven games and his teams wound up on the short end. 

"You'd think what could have happened if you had gotten by that one round," Boudreau said. "It hasn't happened, but it pushes you a week after the season to start pushing for the next one and the next year."

In 2009, Boudreau's Capitals led the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 in a best-of-7 second round series. Game 3 went to overtime, and Alex Ovechkin ripped a shot off the post. Moments later, the Penguins scored the winning goal on a shot that bounced off traffic in front and went into the net.

The Penguins rallied to win the series in Game 7, swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then beat the Detroit Red Wings to capture the Stanley Cup.

Boudreau simply shakes his head.

"If we had've gotten by them, we certainly would have gotten by Carolina and we would've had an opportunity against Detroit," Boudreau said. "We had done good against them during the regular season, even though they were a great team."

The following year, Boudreau's Caps won 54 games and captured the President's Trophy as the best team in the NHL during the regular season.

"We had such a good team and our power play was 25-point something percent during the regular season," Boudreau said. "Then in the first round, our power play went 1-for-34. Montreal didn't do much different, we just missed chance after chance after chance."

The Canadiens upset the Capitals in seven games, winning the final three games of the series.

"We hadn't lost three games in a row at all that year," Boudreau said. "And we were up 3 games to 1 and lost 5, 6, and 7. Montreal ended up going to the conference final that year, but I think we had the best team in the League."

Boudreau's deepest run in the playoffs came in Anaheim in 2015, when the Ducks advanced to the Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks. Anaheim led the series 3-2, but Boudreau felt it shouldn't have been that close.

"I thought we should have won each of the first five games," he lamented. 

Chicago won Games 6 and 7 to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, where it defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games to capture its third Cup in six years.

"There have been so many times it didn't happen," Boudreau said.

Watching his former pupils Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom finally chase down the Cup last season with the Capitals was cathartic, but it was also motivating. 

"I was very happy for them, but it's very motivating because they just went through the last 11 years too, wanting to win this thing and never getting it done," Boudreau said. "There were so many times where they didn't get the breaks, and last year, they got the breaks. 

"So that got me thinking, 'Well, this could be the year [for us].'" 

Boudreau's Wild team in year three isn't a ton different on paper than last year's team, or the one from his first season, which was the best in franchise history. 

But he does have a healthy Charlie Coyle and a healthy Nino Niederreiter, two players that battled through injuries almost the entire season last year.

For the first time since taking the job, he also has a healthy Zach Parise entering the season. Once healthy and integrated back into the lineup last season following a microdiscectomy operation, Parise scored 12 goals in the final 18 games of the regular season, then one goal in each of his three playoff contests.

Ryan Suter also appears healthy after a frightening ankle injury cut short his 2017-18 season late in the year. 

Parise, who turned 34 in July, and Suter, who turns 34 in January, are nearly halfway through their landmark 13-year contracts that brought them to Minnesota in 2012. 

Boudreau is 63 years old and knows he's closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning. He's aware the window of opportunity to raise the Cup is getting smaller and smaller by the year.

That's what makes each early playoff exit more difficult to swallow.

But in seeing Ovechkin and Backstrom finally win a Cup after years of effort has him motivated for what his current group could accomplish.

He sees a veteran core with a chip on its shoulder, eager to finish the same goal as his former Capitals.

"They have every accolade you could probably give a person and all they want to do is win," Boudreau said. "I think when they're alone and they're thinking about hockey, that's what crosses their mind. And that's what makes me think this core has an opportunity to get this thing done."

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