ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Bruce Boudreau is a likable guy who loves to hold court, and he spent his pregame hours Sunday entertaining a stream of Orange County friends, former co-workers and general well-wishers in the Minnesota Wild’s dressing room.
“It’s always great coming back,” the veteran coach said. “I saw an awful lot of people that I knew, and treated me really well.”
He was even happier to leave Anaheim with a win for his surging Wild, who have already learned what the Ducks gave up when they fired Boudreau last spring.
Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon scored early in the second period, and the Wild beat the Ducks 2-1 in Boudreau’s triumphant return.
Boudreau was fired by Anaheim general manager Bob Murray last spring after the Ducks’ first-round playoff exit. Boudreau led Anaheim to the past four consecutive Pacific Division titles and Game 7 of the 2015 Western Conference finals, but it wasn’t enough when the Ducks lost Game 7 to Nashville.
Boudreau has been fired twice for playoff failures in his NHL career despite one of the most impressive regular-season records in hockey history. He has turned his third team into an early-season Stanley Cup contender, including 14 wins in Minnesota’s last 16 games.
“The first one is always nice when you come back, because it becomes more normal every time after that,” Boudreau said. “But at the same time, you’re usually pretty nervous. Your players all know you want to win, so it’s nice to see that they played as well as they did.”
Devan Dubnyk made 23 saves for the Wild, who won twice on their three-game California road trip. After a string of bad defensive performances, the Wild largely shut down the top playmakers for the Ducks, who played without injured captain Ryan Getzlaf.
And it wasn’t hard to locate the source of the extra effort in the Wild’s play.
“We could tell that (Boudreau) was looking forward to it,” forward Zach Parise said. “Subtle hints that he had been giving for about a week now, that we knew how important it was for him. It’s the same if you’re a player and playing against your former team. You want to win that game really bad, and we knew how important this game was for him.”
Ryan Kesler scored his 16th goal in the first period and John Gibson stopped 34 shots for the Ducks, whose three-game winning streak ended.
Minnesota scored twice in 1:42 after consecutive Ducks penalties early in the second: Dumba connected with a two-man advantage, and Jason Pominville’s shot skipped off Spurgeon to put the Wild ahead.
“They’re a good team, but saying that, I think we gave away points tonight,” Kesler said. “We were the better team in the first and third periods, but in the second period, for a couple of minutes, we gave it away.”
The Ducks made no public acknowledgement of Boudreau’s return to Honda Center, where he replaced the fired Randy Carlyle and immediately injected life into a middling franchise early in the 2011-12 season. He went 208-104-40 with the Ducks, hanging four division banners in the rafters and falling one agonizing game short of the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.
But the Ducks won just three combined rounds in four postseason trips under Boudreau, losing a Game 7 on home ice in four straight years. An infuriated Murray chose to get rid of his coach instead of breaking up his roster core.
The Wild eagerly hired Boudreau, who has won eight division titles in his nine seasons behind an NHL bench in Anaheim and Washington. He has immediately led the Wild (25-9-5) to the best first half of a season in franchise history.
After a long search for Boudreau’s replacement, Murray decided to re-hire Carlyle, the winningest coach in franchise history and the leader of their 2007 Stanley Cup champions — even though Carlyle won only one playoff round in his final four seasons before Murray fired him the first time.
Carlyle kept Boudreau’s two assistants, and Anaheim has kept its spot in the Pacific race, while the Wild have taken off with Boudreau. The Ducks hadn’t lost at home in regulation in eight games since Nov. 25.
NOTES: Boudreau turns 62 years old on Monday. … Getzlaf missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. He has returned to skating, but hasn’t practiced with the team. … An apparent Minnesota goal was disallowed early in the third period because Nino Niederreiter kicked the puck into the net.
Wild: Host Montreal on Thursday.
Ducks: Host Dallas on Tuesday.
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