VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks have never done what they’re trying to do now to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. But their coach has.
In the 2007-08 campaign, when Bruce Boudreau was a rookie coach promoted from the American League mid-season after the Washington Capitals fired Glen Hanlon in November, his team won its final seven games and went 11-1 in its last 12 to edge the Carolina Hurricanes for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Five of those Washington wins were on the road, three were in overtime or a shootout, and two were against Carolina. Had any of their wins been a regulation loss, the Capitals would have finished behind the Hurricanes, who were then managed by Jim Rutherford, now Boudreau’s boss in Vancouver.
Fourteen years and nearly 1,000 NHL games later for Boudreau, his Canucks probably need to win at least 11 of their final 13 games to make the playoffs and complete a comeback in the standings similar to what Boudreau orchestrated with the Capitals.
“These things happen,” Boudreau told reporters on Thursday, the day after the Canucks lost their second straight game to the St. Louis Blues to further imperil their playoff hopes. “Columbus, when they beat Tampa (in the 2019 playoffs), had to win the last seven to get in and they did. And then they beat Tampa four straight. If there are not stories that it has happened, then it's hard to believe. But I mean, when you have stories like this that aren't too far-fetched and haven't happened too far long ago, then you say, 'Hey, listen, they're believable things.'”
The 2018-19 Blue Jackets actually went 7-1 in their final eight games to push the Montreal Canadiens out of the playoffs. But they did go on to sweep the 128-point Lightning, which learned so much from that disaster that Tampa hasn’t lost a playoff series since.
The 32-28-9 Canucks were five points behind the Vegas Golden Knights in the race for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference before Thursday’s games. The Knights visit Vancouver on Sunday, before a rematch of the teams Wednesday in Las Vegas.
But with both the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars between the Knights and them, the Canucks look out of it.
“When people are saying negative things about you and you read about it and you see it every day,” Boudreau said, “then, I mean, you've got to be strong enough to believe in yourself and believe that positive things can happen.
“By no stretch does anybody, unless they're lying to me, think that we're done. But, I mean, we have to go on a pretty good run.”
Boudreau said he told his Capitals story to players on Thursday, and reminded them about what the Blue Jackets did just three years ago.
No Canuck has seen more in the league than Brad Richardson, the 37-year-old claimed on waivers by Vancouver on March 21.
The fourth-line centre is the oldest player on the Canucks, won a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and has logged 857 NHL games over 17 seasons.
He is new to the group, but insisted players remain hopeful.
“Yeah, 100 per cent hopeful,” he said. “You’ve got to be hopeful, and you’ve got to know that we have to win the next game and then we'll see what happens from there.”
Richardson was claimed by the Canucks from the Calgary Flames, which means he left a team capable of challenging for a Stanley Cup in June for one that is hanging by its nails from the bottom end of the playoff race.
But he welcomed the change. If this is the end of his career – and Richardson conceded it may be -- he wanted to play in Vancouver rather than sit out in Calgary as a depth piece.
“I'm getting to 37 and I've had a good run,” he said. “You just kind of kind of see where your family's at and where your body's at and then reassess. I have two girls, six and 14 months, and you want to spend lots of time with them.
“I loved the group of guys in Calgary; it was one of the most fun groups I've been on. I probably could have stayed if I wanted to, but I was happy to go play and come here. It was an older team (in Calgary). I was playing with a lot of guys that have won Cups, an older, veteran team. I think there's a big difference in that aspect coming here, just the experience. But the only way to get it is to work through these times and try to gain that experience.”
In this respect, Richardson said, the Canucks’ desperate playoff drive is an invaluable learning opportunity for the team’s young core.
“When I look back, when I first got to L.A., we weren't a playoff team,” Richardson said. “We missed the playoffs, and then we got to the first round and lost out. You've got to get there, and then you've got to learn how to take that next step. So it's a learning process. This is a young group with great players. You've got to push and push and push -- and push each other -- to get to that playoff spot. Then you go from there.”
He said his view of the Canucks from Calgary was that they were a team with excellent young players, lots of skill and an elite goalie in Thatcher Demko.
“I was looking at it like it was a great team that just hadn't hit their potential,” he said.
Richardson added the team is learning what it takes to win. The Canucks are 24-13-7 since Boudreau replaced Travis Green in December.
“The biggest thing is every day, you want to play above what I call ‘the line,’” he said. “It's just the same every day, win or lose. Being a pro and being a pro for a long time, that's what you learn to do.
“If you haven't been through that grind of a long season and playoffs and knowing what it takes, yeah, it is tough. But playing your best every day, it's about grinding and sticking to what your system is. A couple of times last game, we got away from it. You can beat any team in the league when you play above people (on the defensive side of the puck) and you play the right way. But, you know, you still have to learn how to play the right way for the full game.”
• Boudreau came to the Canucks on a pro-rated two-year contract. Asked Thursday if he’d like an extension this summer, the 67-year-old said: “I think I've done an okay job. And it's a tough question. I mean, I want to coach forever, and I really like Vancouver. I guess that sort of answers the question.”