Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)
Bruce Boudreau can't gauge how Washington Capitals fans will respond to his return Monday night, but the Ducks coach knows how he'll feel.
"Goosebumps all night long," Boudreau said. "I'm going to be nervous. ... I'm an emotional guy."
Boudreau, 58, coached Washington from November 2007 until November 2011, when he was fired with the Capitals in a 3-8 rut. Boudreau had been coach of the year in his first season, directing Washington to the best regular-season record in 2009-10, and recorded 200 victories faster than any NHL coach.
The slump coincided with a rough patch for star Alex Ovechkin. Reports on Boudreau's termination noted the Capitals were no longer responding to the coach who had a 201-88-40 record in his first NHL coaching job.
No such talk these days as the straight-talking leader returns to Washington with an inspired team riding a franchise-record eight-game winning streak and holding the NHL's best record (26-7-5).
"Did I want to go? No," Boudreau said of his firing in Washington. "Did I think we could've turned our slump around and made a great year out of it? I think so."
Washington General Manager George McPhee's decision to replace Boudreau with Dale Hunter, who has since been replaced by Adam Oates, was met by an immediate response from Ducks General Manager Bob Murray, who hired Boudreau as coach two days later.
Boudreau has gotten the most out of stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry this season and navigated defensive losses. The team ranks first in the league in man games lost to injury.
"I don't want to take any credit," Boudreau said. "We've got sound, young players. All I've done is build up their confidence a little bit and let them be themselves. My relationship with the players is as strong a suit as I have."
So what went wrong with Washington?
Failing to get past the Eastern Conference semifinals, mostly.
In 2009, the Capitals were ousted in seven games by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. Four of the games went to overtime.
"That close," Boudreau said.
The next season, Montreal overcame a 3-1 series deficit to knock out the Capitals in the first round.
"I know one thing, Game 5 versus Montreal, I would have definitely practiced that afternoon," Boudreau said. "We got in at 7 in the morning after Game 4 and I said, 'Go home and come back the next day.' We were so bad in the first 10 minutes — lethargic, didn't have our legs. We lost, 2-1, and ended up losing Games 6 and 7. That has haunted me."
The Ducks' routine when they return from East Coast trips this season is to practice the next late morning.
Boudreau said that through coaching "trial and error" he has become better with the Ducks, embracing Murray's push to emphasize matching lines. Knocked out in the first round of last season's playoffs, Boudreau doesn't believe the trend has staying power.
"Those things just happen," Boudreau said. "You do what you do, put the best players on the ice and hope your strategy works."
When: 4 PST.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket. Radio: 830.
Etc.: Frederik Andersen of the Ducks became the third goalie to earn nine victories in his first 10 games, joining Boston's Frank Brimsek in 1938 and Philadelphia's Bob Froese in 1983.