NASHVILLE – With temperatures in the Twin Cities hovering around zero lately, it would be easy for Bruce Boudreau to really, really miss his days as the Anaheim Ducks coach.
Heck, it was 72 degrees in the O.C. on Wednesday. But, as the Wild coach said, it’s not like he’d be lounging by the pool if he still manned the Ducks’ bench.
“I am never by the pool. This body does not shed clothing,” said Boudreau, laughing, before reminding that he grew up in Toronto. “I love the fact that I see rinks in backyards and frozen lakes everywhere. When I was growing up, that’s what it was all about.”
If Boudreau still regrets losing his job in Anaheim, he has one team to blame — the Nashville Predators, Thursday’s Wild opponent for the first time this season.
The Ducks had a 3-2 series lead in last spring’s first-round matchup, but they lost Game 6 in Nashville and Game 7 back in Anaheim. Boudreau immediately knew that outcome cemented his undoing.
“[The Nashville] crowd is pretty fanatical,” said Boudreau, who watched veteran Mike Fisher address the home fans after Tuesday’s comeback victory over St. Louis and remind them how important they are to the Predators’ success.
So, Boudreau said, you know they’re going to be “just as loud or louder when they play us. It’s a great test. It’s a great test of how it’ll be come playoff time to play in these buildings that are pretty hostile. And hopefully we’ll come away successfully, and it’ll be a good lesson learned.”
The Predators are 10-2-2 at home.
The Wild moved into second place in the Central Division with Tuesday’s 5-1 blowout of Florida. It’s six points behind Chicago, which the Wild swept in last year’s season series, for the division lead with three games in hand. Boudreau has won eight division titles in nine years as a coach in Anaheim and Washington, so the Wild’s second division championship in franchise history is at least his expectation.
Since before training camp, Boudreau has believed it would take until Christmastime for the Wild to start to play up to the level he expected. He discovered players were “withstanding change,” but now they’re coming around.
Even though the Wild still can improve, a five-game winning streak has aided that buy-in factor.
“Winning is everything in our game,” Boudreau said. “We talked at the beginning of the year, nobody on our team is going to win a scoring championship. We’re looking for only one trophy, and that trophy’s the big one. So if we come together as a team and no one worries about individual success, we’ll have success.”
Issues have mostly been masked by the tremendous play of Devan Dubnyk, who is 14-6-3 and leads the NHL with a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. It’s been a heck of a start for Dubnyk, who struggled at times in training camp and gave up a suspect go-ahead goal in the season opener.
“It’s funny, I was really concerned in training camp,” Boudreau admits. “I didn’t think he was seeing the puck very well and there were goals going in that I wouldn’t have thought would have gone in. It went away in the second game.
“He played great and we won, and after that he hasn’t had — touch wood — a negative game yet. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and more.”
Boudreau has loved what he has gotten from centermen Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, saying having two big, strong centers allows him to play them against any line in the league.
“A lot of teams don’t have that,” he said.
Boudreau admits he has been concerned that Zach Parise, who has five goals, isn’t putting up his usual numbers. But Tuesday, Parise scored a goal with a quick release, had six shots, five takeaways and was a “thorn in the side,” Boudreau said. “Those are the things that make Zach Parise a great hockey player. We’re hoping he’s just starting to get his groove a little bit.”