There is talk that these may actually be the last days for Bruce Boudreau as the Washington Capitals coach, given how his team is down 3-0 in their second-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning and need a comeback of historic Flyer-esque proportions to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
This, of course, would be both absurd and patently unfair and one can only hope that Capitals owner Ted Leonsis grasps that notion, once the post-mortems begin in Washington.
For starters, Boudreau's record as the Capitals coach is extraordinary. It was his arrival on the scene to replace Glen Hanlon that coincided with an immediate about-face in the team's fortunes. For the past three years, the Caps have been one of the NHL's most successful and entertaining teams, a neat trick, and a necessary one in a market that was once moribund.
What people constantly overlook is how young a team Washington really is; and how well Boudreau has managed to develop so many of these kids into legitimate NHLers. Alex Ovechkin was going to be a star no matter who he played for (although handling the Great 8 is no mean feat, given his mercurial nature). But Mike Green was no sure bet to become a front-line NHL player, drafted at the end of the first round, and permitted to grow and thrive by a coach who encouraged the offensive side of his game. Not many teams rely on a 22-year-old (Karl Alzner) and a 20-year-old (John Carlson) as two primary shutdown defencemen.
And while Michal Neuvirth has at times been terrific in these playoffs, he also let in a bad second goal to Tampa Tuesday night and then gave up two in a 24-second third-period span that turned a one-goal lead into a one-goal deficit. And the way Tampa backs up in the neutral zone, playing that one-three-one, when protecting a lead - well, Pittsburgh couldn't penetrate in the last round and Washington is having trouble doing it right now.
Beyond his ability to nurture young players, Boudreau also managed to convince his squad to go from a freewheeling scoring machine to a vastly improved team defensively in the regular season. That is no small feat - and a direct function of coaching, being able to sell a style and philosophy of play to a young and emerging team that would probably just as soon go out there and trade scoring chances with anybody they come up against.
So what we have is a coach who develops kids, game plans well, and has his team alive in the second round of the playoffs when 22 other clubs have already gone home. People talk about the Capitals needing to take the next step - and they do and they will eventually. But it is not as if their window of opportunity is closing any time soon either, not with three young goalies in the system, four young defencemen in the lineup now and a superstar just approaching his prime years who is still one of the most fun players to watch in the game.
The Capitals are not getting outcoached or even outplayed in this series. As steady as Neuvirth has been at times, they are getting out-goaltended by the 41-year-old greybeard Dwayne Roloson, in the same way they were out-goaltended last year by Montreal's Jaroslav Halak. Why they would ever think about making the coach take the fall for that is beyond me.