This comparison was not the intention when reaching out to the Wild and coach Bruce Boudreau for an interview on Monday. The topic was to be the remarkably unpredictable nature of the NHL playoffs, a truism being played out in dramatic style in the current opening round.
Boudreau talked about this for 20 minutes on the phone, and no defenses were in place as he reviewed some of the crushing playoff moments that have followed exceptional regular seasons for teams in his past.
As the interview concluded, I was slapped upside the head with a thought: This could have been a conversation with Gene Mauch in decades past.
Mauch was the baseball man who was brought in from the Minneapolis Millers to manage the 1960 Philadelphia Phillies, after the previous manager, Eddie Sawyer, watched his team in the season opener and quit.
Boudreau was the hockey man who was brought in from the Hershey Bears to take over the Washington Capitals 21 games into the 2007-08 schedule, and rallied that lowly team to a playoff appearance.
Mauch was 38 and in his fifth season when he had the upstart 1964 Phillies 6 ½ games in front with 12 games to play in the 10-team National League. Boudreau was 45 and in his third season when he coached the 2009-10 Capitals to 121 points (54-15-13), best in the East by 18 points and best in the league by eight.
The cruelest result befell both men on the cusp of early glory as leaders of big-league teams, and neither was deterred.
Mauch managed another 21 seasons over 23 years before finally giving up the quest to reach the World Series. Boudreau goes onward in the search for a Stanley Cup with the Wild.
The ’64 Phillies lost 10 straight from Sept. 21 to Sept. 30 and blew the pennant. Years later, Mauch told me that he was sitting in Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis with Phillies General Manager John Quinn near the home dugout for Game 1 of the World Series and had to leave before the first pitch.
“I knew that was supposed to be us down there,” Mauch said. “I got sick.”
On Monday, Boudreau was starting his third week of digesting the fact that the 2018-19 Wild was only his second team in a dozen NHL seasons to miss the playoffs. Is his answer to run from the sight of the playoffs, as Mauch did the World Series?
“I watch every game,” he said. “I pace around the TV room, I can’t stand the idea we’re not in the playoffs, but I watch every game. I see those players out there, giving their hearts and soul, and I keep saying, ‘I don’t want this ever to happen again … to miss this.’ ”
The astounding blow suffered by the Tampa Bay Lightning — 62 wins, 128 points, 21 more than any other team — in getting swept by Columbus was mentioned to Boudreau.
I was going to use that to back into the similar fate suffered by Boudreau’s Caps in 2010. Not necessary. He mentioned it first.
“We won the Presidents’ Trophy for best record going away that season,” Boudreau said. “But I also remember what a veteran hockey guy told me when I was first coaching in the NHL: ‘No matter how good you are in the regular season, you have to get 10 percent better in every round of the playoffs, or you are going to lose.’
“We were up 3-1 against Montreal and Jaroslav Halak had been taken out of the net. Then, we got Carey Price pulled, and they went back to Halak, and he was tremendous the last three games.
“We were good as we had been during the season against Montreal, but we weren’t 10 percent better.”
In his final stop as a manager, Mauch had two big chances in Anaheim to reach the World Series: In 1982, the Angels blew a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five ALCS vs. Milwaukee; and in 1986, they blew a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven vs. Boston (as well as a three-run lead entering the ninth in Game 5).
Boudreau also had big chances with the Ducks in Anaheim: In 2014, they had 116 points and lost to the rival Kings in seven games in the second round. In 2015, they led the Blackhawks 3-2 in the Western Conference finals and lost the last two.
“That was the worst,” Boudreau said. “To be that close to the Stanley Cup finals. It took a while to get over the depression of that one.”
And how’s he handling the downer of this one with the Wild?
Simple. Watch more playoff hockey, pacing the room and looking for the teams finding that extra 10%.
“Except Columbus against the Lightning,” Boudreau said. “That had to be 20 percent.”