"He's the coach you want to play for, so you basically want to do the results for him," Anaheim Ducks forward Tomas Fleischmann said. "You can tell almost every season he gets over 100 points, that's the main reason."
But Fleischmann knows from three playoff runs with Boudreau on the Washington Capitals that the regular-season isn't what defines the popular coach. Boudreau's teams are 27-30 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, including 1-5 when it gets to Game 7, and he has yet to get past the second round.
The Ducks are Pacific Division champions for the third straight year, and players are intent on rallying around Boudreau to try to erase his less-than-sunny playoff reputation.
"He's not playing. It's up to his players, and when his players aren't performing in the playoffs, it has nothing to do with him," winger Corey Perry said recently at Madison Square Garden. "You can say all you want about him, but he's not out there, he's not doing it. We have to go out and we have to prove that we want to win each and every night."
Anaheim lost in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round in 2013 and beat the Dallas Stars last spring before losing the Los Angeles Kings in seven. Matchups this time around could be more favourable for the Ducks to make a run.
General manager Bob Murray said at the trade deadline that the Ducks got defencemen James Wisniewski and Simon Despres, as well as Fleischmann and forward Jiri Sekac, to better compete with the big boys in the Western Conference. Boudreau has the chance to mix and match his lineup based on opponents, so there is some responsibility on his shoulders before his players step onto the ice.
"We can put a group together that plays against a big, physical team, and we can put groups together that play against a real fast team," Boudreau said. "It's nice to be able to move them around; it's tough to take guys that are playing well out of the lineup. It's not like platooning in baseball when you're expecting that. Everybody wants to play every game, so it's a little more difficult."
Boudreau also has to pick a goaltender between 25-year-old Frederik Andersen and 21-year-old John Gibson. Riding one would be a luxury he's unfamiliar with.
In six different playoff runs with the Capitals and Ducks, Boudreau used one goalie for the entire post-season half the time, and only Michal Neuvirth won a series before being swept in the second round. Last year he rotated three goalies between Jonas Hiller, Andersen and Gibson and in Washington split time between Semyon Varlamov and Jose Theodore in 2009 and 2010.
The Ducks in front of whichever goaltender should be better prepared for the playoffs than even last season's group. In addition to Perry, captain Ryan Getzlaf and defenceman Cam Fowler, Anaheim has centre Ryan Kesler and a healthy Jakob Silfverberg to rely on and memories of last year's exit to consider.
"All the younger guys obviously have one more year of experience and now they know how hard it is to win and having to be ready every game," veteran defenceman Francois Beauchemin said. "It takes a lot of focus and you can't take a shift off."
The older Ducks understand that, especially those still around from the Cup run in 2007. They also know finishing at the top of the Western Conference standings is a hollow accomplishment without playoff success.
"I think we know what our goal is: It's the same old thing that we've been saying for the last couple years," Perry said. "We were right there and couldn't get by that one team. ... We know what we want to do, and I think everybody has that desire to do it."
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