This is just another playoff series for Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. But for Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, it’s the moment of a lifetime.
The Hawks and Ducks are comparable in almost every facet of the game heading into their Western Conference final showdown — world-class talent, depth in their forward lines and aggressive defenseman. But there’s one glaring disparity — an intangible that is staring Boudreau right in the face: the Hawks have done this before; the Ducks have not.
The Hawks have won two Stanley Cups in the last five seasons and have been to the conference final five times in the last seven years. In that same span, the Ducks haven’t beaten anybody who’s beaten anybody. Their only playoff series victories in the last three seasons have been against playoff neophytes: the Dallas Stars, making their first playoff appearance in six years in 2014; the Winnipeg Jets, who had not been to the playoffs since 2007, when they were in Atlanta; and the Calgary Flames, who were making their first playoff appearance since the Mike Keenan era in 2009.
Against teams with a championship pedigree, Boudreau and the Ducks have come up short in tantalizing, frustrating and agonizing fashion: In 2013, they lost to the Red Wings in seven games after leading the series 3-2. Last year they lost to the Kings in seven games after leading the series 3-2.
And both times they wilted in Game 7 at home, outplayed from the outset. The Red Wings scored 1:49 into the game, added a short-handed goal in the first period and won 3-2. The Kings had three shot attempts in the first 32 seconds of Game 7 last year, led 3-0 in the first period and 5-0 in the second en route to a 6-2 victory. Hardly signs of a mentally tough championship team.
The onus to rectify that is on Boudreau. The Ducks still have remnants of the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2007 — forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and defenseman Francois Beauchemin. But Boudreau has been unable to even get close to the big one, let alone win it — a particularly dubious distinction considering his regular-season success.
With 363 victories in his first 599 games, Boudreau’s points percentage (.667) is the best of all-time among NHL coaches with 300 more victories — better than Quenneville (.615) and even Scotty Bowman (.657). Boudreau has won seven division titles in his seven full seasons as an NHL head coach — four with the Capitals and three with the Ducks.
Yet, despite having the great Ovechkin in Washington and two world-class scorers in Perry and Getzlaf in Anaheim, Boudreau can’t capture the Quenneville postseason magic. In five of seven playoffs, his team has lost Game 7 at home. He lost a 2-0 series lead against the Penguins in 2009, a 3-1 series lead against the Canadiens in 2010 — losing three games on home ice. Boudreau’s Capitals were swept by Tampa Bay in 2011 — after going 4-1-1 against the Lightning in the regular season. Overall, Boudreau’s teams are 5-9 in playoff series, despite having home-ice advantage in all 14 of them.
No wonder, then, that Ducks players were thrilled for Boudreau after he finally reached the conference final in his seventh try Sunday night when the Ducks beat the Flames 3-2 in overtime to win that series, 4-1.
“Bruce dedicated his life to this. Great to see him do this,” forward Matt Beleskey told reporters after the game. “Not sure how high he can jump, but I’m sure he was jumping for joy.”
Quenneville, meanwhile, continues to have his usual Midas touch. He finally had the postseason goaltender issue everybody has just been waiting for him to have — and somehow he still came out smelling like a rose, with both Scott Darling and Corey Crawford winning games in relief. Patrick Kane should be returning from a broken collarbone on Thursday — he has seven goals, 13 points and is a plus-8 in 10 playoff games. His postseason shooting percentage (24.1) is nearly as good as the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic (29.4).
Here’s what Boudreau is up against: Under Quenneville in the postseason, the Hawks are 14-4 in playoff series; they are 40-13 at home — the best record in hockey in the salary-cap era; they are 25-26 on the road — winning at least one road game in their last 15 series and 17 of 18 overall; their 20-12 in overtime; 14-3 with a chance to clinch; and 26-6 in Games 5-7, arguably the most daunting statistic of all.
The Quenneville-Boudreau disparity is an interesting backdrop to what should be an exciting series. But don’t count on it being the difference. This is hockey after all — mercurial to a fault — where fortunes on a shift, in a game and certainly a playoff series can change in an instant. And for the record, before he came to the Hawks, Quenneville was a lot closer to being the Bruce Boudreau of the NHL than the Joel Quenneville — with his own record of playoff disappointments. Things can change in a hurry.
So maybe Bruce Boudreau, obviously a great coach, is just in the early stages of Quenneville and about to turn it all around. The Ducks have the talent to do it. Could this be the series that gets Boudreau over the top?