Posted on: May 11, 2011 3:21 pm

Capitals owner: Boudreau, McPhee safe

It doesn’t look like Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis will overrule his general manager when it comes to the future of coach Bruce Boudreau.

Leonsis said on Washington sports talk station 106.7 The Fan this week (the audio was posted today) that Boudreau’s future remains GM George McPhee’s call:

“It’s George’s call and George was asked that question. I think Bruce has the best record in the history of the NHL after his first 250 games. That’s pretty good. We have this innate human thing when something doesn’t meet our expectation we want to dole out punishment. I understand that and all I wanted is the time for us to make the right decisions in the right way.”

McPhee said Boudreau would be back a day after the Caps were swept out of the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. And asked if McPhee was sticking around, Leonsis answered “yeah.”

It’s certainly not what the fans, upset after another early playoff exit, wanted to hear as 106.7 The Fan's poll showed, although the margin has narrowed. The Caps have lost to a lower-seeded team in four consecutive playoffs under Boudreau. The coach has led the Caps to four consecutive division titles, the conference title the last two seasons and the President’s Trophy in 2009-10, but Boudreau has a 17-20 record in the playoffs. 

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: May 5, 2011 12:24 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 1:22 pm

Caps GM gives Boudreau vote of confidence

And just like that, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau’s seat cooled considerably.  

"I expect him to be back,” GM George McPhee told Tarik El Bashir of The Washington Post on Thursday, a day after the Caps were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning. “He's a good coach.

“Someone said he's not a good playoff coach There's no difference between a playoff coach and regular season coach. Either you're a good coach or you're not. He's a good coach.”

Boudreau's record in the regular season and the playoffs can't be much more dissimilar.

The Caps have won four consecutive division titles, the Presidents’ Trophy a season ago and  were the top seed in the Eastern Conference the past two seasons. It’s the playoffs where the talented team that boasts Alex Ovechkin and other Stars have struggled under Boudreau, winning only two of six playoff series. Boudreau's playoff record is 17-20.

Earlier Thursday, Caps majority owner Ted Leonsis preached his usually fare -- humility with a heavy helping of patience -- on his blog

The best course of action for us though is to let a few days pass; be very analytic about what needs to be improved; articulate that plan; and then execute upon it.

Clearly we know we have to improve to build a franchise that is as good as our fan base.

I appreciate your emails. I appreciate all of the advice we are being given by media and bloggers. I understand that we are what our record says we are.

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: May 5, 2011 1:56 am
Edited on: May 5, 2011 3:10 am

Caps' Backstrom at a loss to explain struggles

Nicklas Backstrom couldn’t be counted on for much this postseason, although the Washington Capitals center always provides an honest assessment. 

“I think it feels like I’ve been working hard every game, but around the net it just wasn’t there,” he told reporters after the Tampa Bay Lightning complete a sweep of the Caps Wednesday night.. “I don’t know what happened, but it was so (expletive) frustrating.”

The weight of the first year of a 10-year $67-million contract? Trying to be too precise? An undisclosed injury? 

Whatever the cause, Backstrom finished with two points (both assists) in the playoffs. His regular season was hardly spectacular as he followed up a 101-point 2009-10 with only 65 points this season. The drop was likely due to a shift in team’s strategy that stressed defensive responsibility, a bad power play and a  hand injury that hobbled him the closing month of the regular season. 

“Nicky Backstrom didn’t score, but no one’s going to stand up here and tell me he didn’t try,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Backstrom, the team’s second-leading scorer behind Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs the last two years, never appeared comfortable out there. Shots he would have buried a season ago would roll off his stick. Passes he used to hit missed their mark. 

“Obviously, you don’t want to see that happen,” Backstrom said (via  Ryan O’Halloran of CSNwashington.com). “I take full responsibility for not being that good. I wasn’t as good as I should be.”

Alexander Semin can share some of the blame as well. He all but disappeared after he scored in overtime in Game 1 of the first-round series against the New York Rangers, finishing with six points. 

-- A.J. Perez

Posted on: May 4, 2011 11:50 pm
Edited on: May 5, 2011 3:16 am

Capitals' season lost by inaction in December

The Washington Capitals latest postseason failure can be traced back to December.

Caps GM George McPhee had the perfect opportunity to bounce coach Bruce Boudreau during the team's eight-game skid -- not because he’s a horrible coach, not a nice guy or a bad spokesman for a rug cleaning company. McPhee needed to show there were consequences, the NHL equivalent of sitting your kid in the corner for a timeout.

The end result of McPhee’s inaction came to pass on Wednesday: Washington was swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 5-3 victory in Game 4 of the second-round series. The Caps became the first No. 1 seed in the 17-year history of the current playoff format to fall victim to a sweep in the first two rounds.

Well, I guess the Caps did accomplish something this season.

“I knew it was a tough year,” Boudreau said after his team’s implosion was complete. “I just thought if we persevered, that something good would happen.”

Boudreau fell to 17-20 in the postseason, a record that is in contrast to his 189-79-39 record in the regular season. He’s lost four of the six series he’s coached in with the Caps, the only wins coming off the New York Rangers.

McPhee does need to share in the blame for not making the tough decision to let Boudreau go, but he deserves credit for the depth he added during the season. The Caps brought in Jason Arnott in a trade deadline deal with the New Jersey Devils. He also dealt for defenseman Scott Hannan --- even if he had a horrible second round, and finished a minus-2--- and his move not to add a veteran goalie didn’t backfire. Michal Neuvirth wasn’t spectacular, but he also wasn’t the reason the Caps got bounced early again.

“They have everything it takes to win,” said Arnott, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason. “No question. It’s a tough thing to do. Playoffs can go one way or another. You have to have luck. You have to have bounces go your way. For me, I think this team has a great mix of guys who can win.”

Much of the blame has to go to the Caps for not sticking to their more defensively responsible system that was supposed to pay dividends in the postseason. It was a great idea, but it could be an indication that the players may have stopped listening to Bruce sometime earlier this series because his skaters reverted back to their free-form ways.

Of course, no matter how many of us in the media or fans talk about, this is a decision that sits with McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis, who is more tolerant of the status quo then most. And if Brooks Laich, also a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, had his way, Boudreau and his assistants, Dean Evason and Bob Woods, would be back. 

“That doesn’t fall on Bruce," Laich told The Washington Post. "We’re the guys that play the game. Bruce, Dean and Bob, I think we have a dream team of coaches. We’re privileged to play for these guys. Any criticism directed toward them is completely unjust. They put the game plan together and it’s up to the players to execute.”

In pro sports, however, you can't get rid of an entire underperforming playoff team. Replacing the coaching staff is the easier route. 


-- A.J. Perez

Posted on: May 4, 2011 1:19 pm
Edited on: May 4, 2011 2:23 pm

Is Bruce Boudreau's job on the line? Don't ask

Understandably, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t take too well when asked if another loss could mean the end of his tenure with the club. 

“You guys have been asking me that,” Boudreau said hours before his team attempted to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Is your job on the line? . . . I don’t want to answer that. Stupid question. Stupid.”

He's asked the question about 2 minutes, 15 seconds into the news conference: 

It’s not like this is the first time somebody in the sports media went to Boudreau with that line of questioning. Boudreau was also asked in the midst of a nine-game skid this season and  he had a similar reaction. 

"I don't think about it at all," Boudreau said in December . "It is what it is. We have a great group. I'm not even going to answer such a dumb question."

If only his star players were as dependable. 

As we mentioned last night , Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and most of the Caps players have been ghosts this round. Alex Ovechkin, who had a point and an assist in Game 3, tried to do it all on his own, never a good idea, but can you blame him? Nobody else has stepped up for the Caps for more than a period at a time this round. 

And it appears the Caps will have to contest this elimination game minus their top defenseman. Mike Green, who left Game 3 in the third period for what Boudreau described as a lower-body injury, is questionable (at best) for Game 4. Boudreau refused to talk about his status earlier today. 

These are again frustrating times in the Washington region and Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog that he received 60 e-mails overnight:

I appreciate it.

I empathize.

I understand.

We have a game to play this evening, a unique back-to-back game. A win is a must have deliverable for us under very difficult circumstances.

I, too, am disappointed that we lost two leads last night. Every game is close and we didn’t close out that game and take a win and the momentum back in the series. I am sorry.

We have a lot of work to do.

It is best that we focus on the game tonight. Keep sending good vibes our way. We need the help. Go Caps!

If those good vibes don’t result in four consecutive wins, Leonsis -- one of the more patient owners in sports -- would be the one to lead a makeover of the organization, or at least the front office and, in turn, the coaching staff.  As you can tell by the comments at the end of his post, it would be met with approval by most. 

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: May 3, 2011 11:20 pm
Edited on: May 4, 2011 3:28 am

Capitals primed for another postseason letdown

It’s hard to fathom how a Washington Capitals team that can’t hold a third-period lead would become the fourth team in NHL history to advance after it dropped the first three games in a playoff series. 

That’d take veteran leadership, grit and smarts --- all of which were lacking as the Tampa Bay Lightning eked out a 4-3 victory in Game 3 of the second-round series at the St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday.

The Caps all but certainly lost the series in a span of 24 seconds early in the third period as Tampa Bay forwards Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone scored for the game’s final margin. A turnover by Eric Fehr led to the Stamkos marker and seconds later Malone drove hard to the net --- something the Caps still refuse to do with regularity --- and a pass from teammate Nate Thompson deflected (legally) off his skate and in. 

“I’m not surprised from what I saw from Tampa,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I’m surprised some of our guys panicked a little bit. That comes when you’re down 2-0 in the series. You’re pushing and they’re coming on pretty hard.”

Boudreau should be used this from his Capitals. He’s taken these rulers of the regular season to the playoffs each of his four seasons at the helm, although the team has only managed series victories over one team: the New York Rangers (twice). A year after they won the Presidents’ Trophy and were bounced in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens, the best team record-wise in the Eastern Conference now stands one game away from elimination.

This loss certainly can’t be pinned on Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored a goal, had an assist and was all over the ice in an attempt to provide a spark even if he tried to do too much at times. And you can’t fault his optimism after the game, even if it’s misplaced. 

“Again, I think we dominated them all game,” Ovechkin said. “They just scored on their chances. They played a solid game on defense and (Lightning goalie Dwayne) Roloson played great. It’s not over.”

The only period the Caps could make an argument they “dominated” was the second as they scored three goals and finished with a 3-2 lead. It was a wash in the first period and the Caps went nearly 13 minutes between shots in the third. 

“We get up for a certain amount of time and I think that our guys think the game is over," Caps forward Jason Arnott said. "The guys just relax a little bit and then they (the Lightning) just come. In the playoffs you need to be focused and ready on every shift. If you aren’t, bad things happen.”

Minus Ovechkin and hard-nosed veteran Mike Knuble who scored the Caps’ first goal, Washington’s top forwards again turned in lackluster performances. Alexander Semin, again too choosy on his shots, didn’t record his first shot until the closing minutes of regulation. Nicklas Backstrom, who at this point better have some sort of injury to explain his ineffectiveness, has two points in the playoffs – none in Game 3 --- and hasn’t had a goal in 16 games overall. 

While the Caps’ play hasn’t been consistent, at least Boudreau is. When the going gets tough, Bruce gets tough on the refs. 

“It sounds like I’m whining,” Boudreau prefaced one comment before he complained about a first-period goal that was disallowed after Semin jumped on the ice early. Replays clearly showed that the Caps had six skaters on the ice, but Boudreau called the too many men on the ice rule “ambiguous.”

He also didn’t like Malone’s goal where he battled with Caps defenseman John Carlson for position in front of goalie Michal Neuvirth

“If you look at it, Malone is driving the net and he’s pushing our player into our goaltender and he can’t kick out his right leg to make the save,” Boudreau said. “It’s a no-goal, no-penalty call.”

Actually, it looked like a typical, hard-driving goal you see this time of year. You can forgive Boudreau, since he doesn’t see that a whole lot from his skaters.

But no worries. A loss in Game 4 on Wednesday and Boudreau may no longer have to worry about the Caps or their middling postseasons ever again.  

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: May 3, 2011 4:15 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2011 4:16 pm

Lightning's Kubina, Gagne to miss more time

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina will miss his second consecutive game for a hit that he hinted may have deserved another look by league officials. 

“Of course, I saw it a couple times,” Kubina told reporters before Game 3 of the first-round series against the Washington Capitals today. “It’s Mr. (Colin) Campbell’s decision. It’s not mine.”

Kubina’s head was driven into the boards during the second period of Game 1 by Caps forward Jason Chimera. The hit drew roughing minor, but Campbell, the NHL’s disciplinarian, did not dole out a suspension. Kubina only described his injury as “upper body,” although it appears that Kubina and forward Simon Gagne -- who also went down in Game 1 with an apparent head injury -- could be dealing with concussions. 

Lightning coach Guy Boucher also said the duo were also likely be out for Wednesday’s Game 4. 

“If I want them to play tomorrow, I better start praying,” Boucher cracked. “They won’t play. They are day-to-day except for today and tomorrow. ”

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: May 3, 2011 3:57 pm
Edited on: May 4, 2011 12:04 am

Lightning assistant "alert" after brain surgery

Tampa Bay Lightning assistant Wayne Fleming was "awke and alert" after undergoing lengthy surgery Tuesday to remove a malignant brain tumor, head coach Guy Boucher told reporters after his team's 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals

“That was the first thing we talked about," Boucher said. "We didn’t talk about the win.“

Fleming underwent surgery to remove the tumor in Irvine, Calif., an operation that reportedly was supposed to take eight hours or longer. The Lightning announced last month that Fleming had been diagnosed with the tumor and he’s already had one surgery to address it. 

“We did bring it up, but we didn’t draw on it for inspiration,” Boucher told reporters earlier in the day. “We bought it up to make sure the payers are aware of what’s going on. It’s not something we want to hide. It’s obviously a very, very serious operation and, to be honest with you, personally, I can’t wait to see how it went. It’s a very tough day for him, his family and for our team.  We care about the man. Hockey is way behind all that.”

Fleming has remained in contact with Lightning players and coaches through text messaging and the team dedicated the first round of the playoffs to him. 

"This is a big family and he's a big part of ,” Lightning defenseman Randy Jones told The St. Petersburg Times. “Your thoughts and prayers are with him and you're thinking about him. . . He'd want us to go and focus 100 percent on this game and work hard, and that's what we have to do."

-- A.J. Perez
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com