Sometimes, coaches make lineup decisions based on a gut feeling. When those decisions backfire, their gut feelings can become spasms of tension, anxiety, and early-playoff-exit regrets.
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau, fighting a reputation of being unable to lead talented teams in Washington and Anaheim deep into postseason play, made several decisions Friday that proved pivotal in the 6-2 victory that gave the Ducks a 3-2 lead over the Dallas Stars in the teams' opening-round playoff series.
The Ducks can advance to the second round if they win Sunday at Dallas. If the home team continues to prevail, the Ducks would get another chance next Wednesday at the Honda Center. The series winner will face the winner of the series between the Kings and the San Jose Sharks, which the Sharks lead, 3-1, and can finish Saturday.
Boudreau guided the Ducks within one win of the second round by coming back Friday with goaltender Frederik Andersen, even though the Danish rookie was shaky in Game 4 and was pulled in favor of Jonas Hiller before the Stars tied the series. Andersen was sharper Friday, maintain control while stopping 34 shots.
"I was pretty calm," Andersen said. "I just have to keep doing what I did all season. That's what you want — to go back to the foundation of your game. The second goal, I wanted to stop it too much to find it. Other than that, it was a good game."
Boudreau took a chance by sitting veteran forwards Kyle Palmieri and Daniel Winnik to keep youngsters Rickard Rakell, Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly in the lineup. Boudreau also brought back veteran winger Teemu Selanne — a healthy scratch in Game 4 — and stud center Ryan Getzlaf, who missed the loss at Dallas because of an upper-body injury. Selanne didn't figure in the scoring but Getzlaf, again showing how impressively he has grown into his role as the team's captain, contributed their fifth goal and two vital assists.
Because a stiff neck prevented standout rookie defenseman Hampus Lindholm from playing Friday, Boudreau replaced him with Luca Sbisa, who had a few good moments while playing the physical game Boudreau wanted.
Forward Andrew Cogliano, who capitalized on Dallas' fading defensive effort to set up Jakob Silfverberg for the first of the Ducks' three goals in the third period, said Boudreau made an insightful move by keeping Rakell, Smith-Pelly and Etem in the lineup.
"I thought Bruce did a great job. He realized those guys had a great game last game and created energy and Rakell scores his first NHL goal on a big goal for us," Cogliano said.
"Bruce has a good sense of who's playing well, what guys need to be in the lineup, and what the matchups need to be and I thought he did a great job tonight putting that lineup in."
Boudreau faced intense pressure to make the right personnel decisions Friday, and he must continue to be right to shake that label of being an underachieving coach.
Boudreau this season led the Ducks to their best regular-season record—54-30-8—and their first No. 1 seeding in the Western Conference while compensating for injuries and balancing respect for Selanne against the reality of his dwindling production. But every judgment of Boudreau comes back to his playoff failures with the Capitals, and the Ducks last year.
The Ducks slumped late last season but kept the No. 2 seed only to be dismissed by the No. 7 Detroit Red Wings in a seven-game first-round series. The Ducks led the series, 3-2, but lost Game 6 at Detroit and — unforgivably — mustered a flat effort in losing Game 7 at home. The Red Wings, newly healthy for the playoffs, took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks to seven games in the second round, proving their legitimacy and removing some of the blame from Boudreau for the Ducks' loss.
Losing to Dallas, which was the last of eight playoff teams in the West, might not cost Boudreau his job but certainly would make his position uncomfortable. He has the Ducks in control now but must keep them there.
The Ducks' energetic forechecking and physical play allowed them to pull away in the third period Friday. That will be difficult to duplicate before a hostile crowd in Dallas, but Boudreau must again figure out the right moves that will get them into the second round, territory he and they haven't explored together.