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California Dreamin’ (Central Division Notebook)

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The Minnesota Wild had lost two of three after its 12-game winning streak, but they rallied to defeat the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. (Chris Carlson/AP Photo)
The Minnesota Wild had lost two of three going into Sunday after going on their 12-game winning streak last month, but they rallied to defeat the Anaheim Ducks in Bruce Boudreau’s return to Anaheim. (Chris Carlson/AP Photo)

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

Refreshingly loquacious in a profession where many of his ilk are the antithesis of that, Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau isn’t nicknamed “Gabby” for nothing. He talks. He speaks his mind, so much so that, in 2009, he released a memoir.

So it should go without saying that Boudreau, upon his return to Southern California to take on the Anaheim Ducks, the team he had plenty of success with during his four years there yet fired him just nine months ago, would have a lot to share with the press in the lead-up to the game and afterward.

He did not disappoint.

Boudreau, who also was once the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings’ minor league affiliate in Manchester, N.H. and spent many weeks coaching at camps run by the Kings in Southern California, couldn’t hide the fact that going back to the Golden State was more than just another stop on a season-long journey towards the goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

“It’s hard to say with a straight face that it’s just another road trip,” said Boudreau after the Wild’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Kings on Saturday night.

On Sunday, the Wild went south on Interstate 5 to Anaheim to take on the Ducks. In five years with the Ducks, Boudreau led the team to four consecutive Pacific Division titles, always entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a legitimate contender to bring home the franchise’s second-ever Cup. Each of those four division-winning years, from 2013 to 2016, ended in abject disappointment, as the Ducks were eliminated before reaching the Stanley Cup Final on every occasion. The team’s deepest run under Boudreau was the 2015 Western Conference Final, where the Ducks, with home ice advantage against the Chicago Blackhawks, were one win away from the Final. Chicago won Game 6 at home before ending the Ducks’ season at the Honda Center in Game 7.

That disappointment set up a “boom or bust” 2016 for Boudreau and the Ducks. After overcoming a dreadful start to the season, the Ducks, as was expected by many, won their fourth division title in a row. What wasn’t expected was a first-round loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators, who, like the Blackhawks the season prior, won the last two games of the series and Game 7 in Anaheim to send the Ducks to an earlier-than-expected vacation.

It also sent Boudreau into unemployment, as he was relieved of his duties by general manager Bob Murray just two days after the Game 7 loss to the Predators.

“We knew we were done,” said Boudreau. “We just didn’t know when.”

As the second-winningest head coach in NHL history in terms of points percentage, Boudreau was not going to be out of a job for too long. The Minnesota Wild swooped in to hire Boudreau, and that has turned out to be a savvy move with the Wild currently owning the best winning percentage in the Western Conference. That said, he’s got a ways to go to match the prolonged success he had at Anaheim, with the reminders of that hanging in the Honda Center rafters.

When asked if he had any regrets or bitterness with the Ducks, Boudreau answered, according to the Los Angeles Times, “That’s a good question. I want to say no, because it was a great experience living in California. I never thought I’d live there. I was hoping I’d get a job with the Kings back in the day.

“For what I learned and the players I got to coach, I made many friends and all those things. So there was no bitterness there,” Boudreau added.

While there might not have been bitterness, hanging over the heads of the team this weekend was a sense of urgency, sensing that this contest with the Ducks was a game they had to win for their coach. After falling behind 1-0, defensemen Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon scored just 1:41 apart in the second period and the Wild held on for a 2-1 victory. Devan Dubnyk, who made 23 saves to record his 21st win of the season, also knew that this was more than just another game for Boudreau.

“He’s candid and he’s emotional, he’s a human being, and you can tell this game meant a lot to him,” Dubnyk said. “It meant a lot to us as well. It was nice to get this one for him.”

“It’s the same if you’re a player and playing against your former team,” added Wild forward Zach Parise. “You want to win that game really bad.”

With the game he so desperately wanted now in the bag, Boudreau was asked whether he was glad that the little circus surrounding his return would come to an end. He didn’t hold back, yet expressed gratitude in the process.

“I love it,” he said. “Are you kidding me? When you win, it’s easy to face the questions. It’s always great coming back. I saw an awful lot of people that I knew and treated me really well when I was here.”

It wasn’t as if Boudreau hadn’t experienced this before. Less than two years after leading the Washington Capitals to 121 points and the Presidents’ Trophy in the 2009-10 season, Boudreau was given his marching orders just 22 games into the 2012 season. In his first game back in Washington as coach of the Ducks, Boudreau and his new team won that game on Dec. 23, 2013.

So going through that experience before must have helped Boudreau in going through what he went through on Sunday, right?

“No, because I don’t want to get fired anymore,” he said. “I don’t want to keep getting that experience.”

Never change, Gabby. Don’t ever change.

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