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Boucher and Boudreau: A Tale of Two Coaches

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In just one season Guy Boucher and his Tampa Bay Lightning have accomplished something that has eluded Bruce Boudreau and the Washington Capitals for years.

The Lightning's rise under Boucher -- the franchise's rookie head coach -- and first-year general manager Steve Yzerman has been meteoric. After sweeping the Capitals in four games to reach the Eastern Conference finals, it's likely that the climb is also still in the early stages.

On the other hand, the Capitals have reached a crossroads and it would be shocking if Boudreau -- the club's head coach for the last four years -- isn't left behind at the intersection.

The Capitals could take their time in deciding Boudreau's future, but in reality there shouldn't be much to think about. Washington has averaged 112 points over the last three regular seasons under Boudreau, but only have a pair of second-round exits and last year's embarrassing opening-round loss against Montreal to show for it.

Nobody cares, or remembers, that the Caps had missed the playoffs for three straight years before Boudreau came on as an interim head coach to lead Washington to a division title and a postseason berth in the 2007-08 season.

Guy Boucher, right, has already taken Tampa to the conference finals, something Bruce Boudreau, left, has never done in Washington.
The way this spring's playoff run ended will not exactly help folk to remember Boudreau's glory days either. After ousting the New York Rangers in five games in Round 1, the Capitals were simply outworked in their sweep against Tampa.

Although the Lightning only outscored Washington by a combined 16-10 margin in the series, they were able to take the early lead in every game and the Bolts were seemingly able to get clutch goals whenever they needed one.

Under Boucher, who is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach, Tampa has also bought into a defensive system that works even if it may not lend itself to the most exciting brand of hockey.

Boudreau made a valiant attempt to get his club to commit to a team-first defensive style in the middle portion of this season, but the new strategy did not take firm roots. In the end, Washington reverted to its old bad habits and despite outpacing Tampa by four points for the Southeast Division title, the Caps were unable to beat Boucher and the Bolts when it counted.

It's clear that Boudreau is going to be the one to shoulder much of the blame for this latest playoff disappointment, but GM George McPhee and majority team owner Ted Leonsis have to reevaluate their own decisions and how they've contributed to the Caps perennial postseason disasters.

After all, if your top player -- Alex Ovechkin -- is averaging 1.35 points per playoff game in his career (50 points in 37 games) than why hasn't he been past the second round of the playoffs? Not to say Ovechkin gets a free pass, but clearly there are some issues with the personnel surrounding the Russian superstar.

Boucher and the Lightning have found a way to make their star system work. Martin St. Louis has thrived under the first-year bench boss and is one of three finalists for this year's Hart Trophy, an award he won in 2004 when Tampa won its one and only Stanley Cup title.

Meanwhile, St. Louis' fellow star forwards Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier may have battled through rough patches this year, but the duo are currently firing on all cylinders.

Even lesser known players like Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie and Ryan Malone are also contributing timely goals for the Lightning, while also leading the charge for Tampa's relentless fore-checking.

Of course, Yzerman deserves tons of credit for his part in the revival of a club that failed to qualify for the playoffs in the previous three seasons. Not only did he select Boucher as his head coach shortly after taking the GM job last May, but he also made some excellent moves to get his franchise back on track.

Yzerman's biggest acquisition has been the trade for 41-year-old goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who Tampa snatched from the New York Islanders in January. Roloson has helped solidify the Lightning's situation in the crease after previous goaltenders Mike Smith and Dan Ellis had failed in that goal.

Should he get the axe from the Caps, Boudreau will almost surely land another NHL job, but his inability to get a talented Washington club over the hump will dog him forever.

Boucher has already taken Tampa to the conference finals for just the second time in its history and the sky seems to be the limit for the 39-year-old Quebec native.

Still, Boucher would be wise to learn a lesson from Boudreau's time in Washington. After all, Boudreau was once the toast of the town in D.C. and a Jack Adams Award winner, but in the end he failed to keep up with rising expectations.

Boucher has raised the bar in Tampa Bay and will have to continue to live up to it. That's not an easy thing to do, a fact that has become all too familiar for Boudreau and his Capitals.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

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