If you listened to any sports radio this morning or late last night, you might have heard a question somewhere along the lines of, what is it that Peter Laviolette does that Bruce Boudreau doesn’t when it comes to Game 7s?
With last night’s Predators Win, Laviolette moved to 5-1 all-time in Game 7s, while Boudreau moved to 1-7 overall (coached with Washington and now Anaheim), so it stands to reason that Laviolette must do something better when it comes to Game 7s than Boudreau.
Well, without being involved in the process, I can’t really comment on their preparation, but I feel confident in saying that Boudreau is an excellent NHL coach. I sincerely doubt that when the game turns from 6 to 7, his preparation goes completely haywire and he has no clue what he is doing. So I wouldn’t see Pete is out preparing Bruce.
The other thing I’m fairly confident it isn’t, is pre-game speeches. These are NHL players in the real world; this isn’t a Disney movie. These players are the best of the best and paid to play, they don’t rely on pump ups from their coach to get their game together. A poor pre-game speech isn’t what’s standing in Boudreau’s way of winning a game 7.
What it is, I would guess, is confidence and trust, as in the players confidence and trust in their coach. The reason I guess this is because you cannot fake confidence and you cannot fake nerves. As a coach, if you’re nervous, you’re nervous and the players can tell. If you’re not confident, you’re not confident and the players can tell. If you’re nervous and unconfident, any decision you make during the game, even if it’s the right one, will have an aura of nervousness and unconfidence which will lead to your players being unconfident in, and not trusting, the decision. And there’s nothing you can do about that; if you’re players can tell your nervous, there’s nothing you can say to get them to believe differently.
And all this stuff has come by Boudreau naturally. Let’s say in his first Game 7 loss, Boudreau made a line-change or adjustment in the game that was entirely justified. Unfortunately in sports, sometimes the right decision ends up in the wrong result and that justified decision still ended up in a loss. Now, at the end of the game, players and even Boudreau look back at that decision and wonder, what happened there?
Next Game 7 loss, same thing happens. Justified decision doesn’t result in a win, and now players, media members, and yes, Boudreau, have two things to look back on and question.
And these results keep piling on and piling on, and then, heading into last night’s game at 1-6 all-time in do-or-dies, all those unfortunate results are sitting in the back of both Boudreau’s mind and his players’ minds. He’s nervous—whether he’d admit it or not—because he just wants to have one Game 7 go his way, and the fact of the matter is, he knows his job is on the line. His players know he’s nervous. How could he not be? They know his record and they know what’s at stake, both for Boudreau professionally and for them in terms of the season. They also know, or have heard of, all these things that Boudreau has done in past Game 7s that haven’t worked out for him. Naturally, the confidence and trust is lacking there.
So, when the Predators went up 1 early in the game, maybe Boudreau made an adjustment and players thought “oh man, he’s panicking.” Or maybe he said “stay the course,” and the players thought “what the hell, make an adjustment!” Because of his record in these games, Boudreau’s kind of been painted into a corner where no matter what he does, he’s going to get questioned. If players are questioning their leader in the biggest game of the season, the results typically don’t go your way.
And I’m not saying this is the sole reason Anaheim lost. I really think Corey Perry and Ryan Getzalf have to have a real long, hard look in the mirror. They wear these Game 7s as much or more than anyone else, but Bruce has this aura following him now.
What can he do to fix it? Well, how do you gain confidence in an area you keep failing? Win one, basically. At some point, he’s got to get his team to break through. That might come down to simply having a better team, a hotter goalie, or a meeting a team that completely combusts under the pressure, but the only way to get out of this hole is to win one eventually.
I do think, the next time he’s in a Game 7 (my guess with a new team), Boudreau has to adopt an underdog mentality. At this point, no one thinks he can do it. So don’t go into the game saying “hey, this is just another game.” It isn’t. 1) It’s do-or-die in the NHL. It’s a big deal. 2) His career as a Head Coach might start to depend on winning one of these games. You could be a great Coach, but if you can’t get your team over the hump, you might be better served as an Assistant. Don’t shy away from going to your team and saying, “No one is giving us a shot to win because of my personal record. %#$& that! Past doesn’t predict the present and we’re the better team.” Somehow, he’s got to get his group to believe in him in these big moments. He’s got to almost stop caring about his past results so he can be confident in the future. If he can’t get past that, he might not ever get out of a Game 7.