In the moments after the Anaheim Ducks clinched their spot in the Western Conference final, coach Bruce Boudreau gazed into the stands to see his wife and two of his sons celebrating.
"I looked right at them," Boudreau said. "They were jumping up and hugging each other and they turned to me and they were pointing at me, so I was pointing right back at them."
For years fingers were pointed at Boudreau for early playoff exits, something he picked up a reputation for. In four post-season runs with the Washington Capitals and two with the Ducks, Boudreau had never gotten past the second round.
That’s over, and with Sunday night’s win came some long-awaited vindication for the popular players’ coach and relief to finally get over the hump.
"The instant it happened it felt really good, and then half an hour later I forgot about it because we’re starting to think about Chicago," Boudreau said Monday. "I was really glad that I don’t have to answer that question any time soon. In that respect it’s always good, and getting to the final four’s a new experience for me."
Boudreau is one of the best regular-season coaches in recent history, the fastest to 200 and 300 victories and second only to Todd McLellan in points percentage with .651. That’s ahead of Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville, among others.
"His teams are always great, they sit at the top of the standings at the end of the regular season," said Matt Hendricks, who played for Boudreau in Washington. "Obviously he’s won at every level that he’s coached at other than the NHL level in terms of championships and such."
Boudreau won a Calder Cup in the American Hockey League and before that a Kelly Cup in the ECHL, a resume that got him to the NHL. So much regular-season success at this level, including a Presidents’ Trophy with the Capitals in 2010 and six division titles, increased the pressure on him.
Losing in the playoffs bothered the St. Catharines, Ont., native, but he tried not to show it, especially to his players.
"I try not to let it trickle in saying, ‘Hey, it’s your fault that you’re not making it to the third round,’ because when you start thinking like that, then you doubt your abilities," Boudreau said.
"I think it’s the coach’s job to not only sound confident but to look confident, especially in your players not to give them any belief that you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve felt confident. It just hasn’t happened."
Boudreau’s 2008 Capitals lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime in Game 7, in 2009 the Pittsburgh Penguins finally got to rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov, in 2010 Jaroslav Halak was brilliant for the Montreal Canadiens and in 2011 injuries piled up during a second-round sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I think it bothered him for sure, but it bothered him more for his players and not so much his personal gain," Hendricks said of Boudreau’s playoff defeats. "He cares so much about every guy in that locker-room, every player and the organization that he coaches for that I think he feels a little bit that he’s letting the players down or feels bad that they’re not succeeding, they’re not achieving championships."
Fired in Washington in November 2011 and hired in Anaheim days later, Boudreau turned the Ducks around quickly.
His 2013 team ran into the Detroit Red Wings and lost in seven and last year advanced to the second round before getting beaten by the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings. Boudreau said that defeat served as motivation in these playoffs.
Whatever the motivation, the Ducks have been a buzz saw going 8-1 against the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, with the most goals scored and fourth-fewest allowed. This is the first time in Anaheim’s franchise history a team has won eight of nine playoff games.
"Bruce is a good coach, he’s done good things for us," captain Ryan Getzlaf said the day before the first round began. "You could look up and down the league and name 100 coaches that have never even done close to what Bruce has done."
Boudreau understands that and kept himself as even-keeled as possible by considering how many great hockey coaches haven’t reached the conference finals. Now he finally has, with the two-time Cup-champion Blackhawks up next in the West final.
"He’s got a great team," Hendricks said. "I’m happy to see where he is, but obviously I root for him and I hope they go a lot further."