Day 8 -- Ducks Come Home Victorious
10:00 a.m. – Players mingle in the hotel lobby catching up on phone calls, texts, and tweets, as the rain falls outside the team hotel on 15th Street. Head coach Bruce Boudreau is also in the lobby, looking calm, cool and collected. He’ll head to Verizon Center to watch the morning skate, but this time he’ll be heading to the visiting locker room. Boudreau spent four years as the bench boss of the Washington Capitals, so he knows this arena well.
10:15 a.m. – A group of diehard fans brave the rain and greet the players as they make the quick walk to the bus. Selanne, as usual, signs every last autograph.
10:25 a.m. – The pouring rain belts the team bus as it navigates the streets leading to Verizon Center. It’s been unusually warm here for the past two days, but colder weather is on the way.
10:30 a.m. – Bruce catches up with local media members outside the Ducks locker room about an hour prior to morning skate. Until yesterday, during the team’s optional skate, Boudreau hadn’t been inside Verizon Center since late 2011.
11:30 a.m. – The Ducks head out onto the ice for their game-day morning skate as Boudreau watches from the bench. Boudreau keeps it loose on the bench, cracking a smile here and there. As his players go through their usual drills, a local photographer gets up to the glass to snap photos of Bruce behind the bench.
11:55 a.m. – Bruce leaves the bench and greets the media down the hallway. His press conference is roughly 10 minutes in length and runs the gamut. From his time in Hershey of the American Hockey League, to his first year as an NHL coach, to his dismissal in Washington up to the present time as head coach of the Ducks, Bruce reminisces about his long-standing relationships with Capitals players.
“I thought they were really good relationships,” he says. “They were great guys. For a lot of them, just watching tapes of them, thinking we’ve played in Hershey together, we’ve won championships together. When you win a championship, no matter where you are, you always have a special bond with that group. That’ll be with me forever. At the end of the season, I’ll see a couple of them, but right now I won’t even look over at them tonight. Not once. I’ll be too afraid [laughs].”
Bruce gets the entire group laughing when he’s asked what first came to mind when he stepped into the arena on Saturday. “I hope the ice is better [laughs],” he says. He pauses a few seconds, and then gives his real answer. “I just saw [Verizon Center] and said, “Wow, it’s different from this [visiting] locker room.” I didn’t even know how to get into the building from a visitor’s standpoint. It’s all interesting.”
12:15 p.m. – The team boards the bus back to the hotel for some afternoon naptime before heading back to Verizon Center at four o’clock.
6:00 p.m. – Cam Fowler, Andrew Cogliano, Frederik Andersen, Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri, Matt Beleskey, Hampus Lindholm, Dustin Penner and Francois Beauchemin go through their dynamic warmup outside the locker room. It’s usually the same group of guys, give or take a few. The players have fun, and they all have certain routines. For example, once they complete the ladders portion of the warmup, Bonino, Fowler, Beauchemin and Palmieri run in a circle, but with little to no movement of their upper bodies. In other words, they look incredibly stiff. After that, Fowler and Palmieri run up to each other, graze each other’s arms, and then run away from each other. Finally, Bonino and Fowler run up to each other and leap into one another at the same time. Reasons behind their routine are unknown.
6:30 p.m. – Jonas Hiller leads the team onto the ice for pre-game warmup. Boudreau follows, and catches his first glimpse of the Verizon Center crowd.
7:07 p.m. – The puck drops and the game is officially underway. Immediately, a loud horn goes off three times, followed by a loud “Let’s go Caps!” chant from the sellout crowd of 18,506. The building is electric and it’s not long before the Capitals take an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Mikhail Grabovski.
7:25 p.m. – Nicklas Backstrom puts the Capitals up 2-0 with a power-play goal 8:23 into the first period. It’s not the start the Ducks or Boudreau want, but this team seems to have a bend-but-never-break mentality. The Ducks erased a two-goal deficit on Saturday to defeat the Islanders. The same is about to happen tonight.
7:35 p.m. – With 2:45 remaining in the opening frame, Cogliano converts on a rebound chance to get the Ducks on the board. The goal cuts the deficit in half and energizes the bench.
8:30 p.m. – The momentum carries over into the second period, as Saku Koivu chips one up and over the shoulder of Philipp Grubauer on a beautiful pass from defenseman Ben Lovejoy with 27 seconds remaining in the second period. Lovejoy practically goes coast to coast before one-handing a perfect pass into the slot to an uncovered Koivu. The normally frenzied Verizon Center crowd now sits in silence, surely stunned by the dramatic turn of events.
9:23 p.m. – Leave it up to 19-year-old rookie defenseman Hampus Lindholm to score the go-ahead goal, and the third unanswered tally by the Ducks, with just 5:36 remaining in regulation. It’s a wrist shot through traffic that Grubauer never sees, and Lindholm proceeds to celebrate in grand style by going down on one knee and fist-pumping like there’s no tomorrow. The Ducks are minutes away from their ninth consecutive victory, but it won’t come easy.
9:30 p.m. – Everyone in the building thinks Alex Ovechkin has tied the game with 3:09 remaining in regulation, but replays show his wrist shot clanging off the crossbar and dropping right on the goal line. After video review, the score remains 3-2 in favor of Anaheim. Boos rain down from the crowd.
9:35 p.m. – After Nick Bonino’s empty-net attempt gets stopped inside the crease, the Caps make one last rush up the ice, but to no avail. The Ducks gain possession and the final horn sounds. Anaheim wins this one, 3-2.
9:40 p.m. – Hampus Lindholm speaks with the media. “Getzlaf and those guys went hard to the net and the puck was bouncing right up the middle,” he says. “I got the puck on my stick and tried to make a quick move to get away from my forward. I got the puck on net, I saw it go in, and it was a pretty good feeling. It’s a huge goal and it’s fun for Bruce and those guys coming here and winning against their old team. It was a blast. And now we come home and celebrate Christmas with nine straight wins. It’s great.”
Lindholm is in the process of continuing his answer when Jonas Hiller comes into the locker room. All of a sudden, there’s a loud crash, and it’s Hiller, practically swallowed up by his stall. Hiller didn’t realize the bench seat was lifted up, so when he went to sit down, he sank into the storage compartment. After some laughs, Lindholm tries to compose himself as he finishes his train of thought.
9:50 p.m. – Bruce Boudreau goes out into the hallway to address the media. “I was as nervous as I’ll get,” he says. “It just looked different. I don’t think I made eye contact with one player all night long because I couldn’t. I was worried they might give me a pout or something [laughs]. I thought our guys were really good after the first 10 minutes. I think they were trying hard for the guys who were in Washington, like Bob [Woods] and myself. I think they were a little nervous at the beginning. But once we got our legs going, I thought we shut them down pretty good, except for that almost-goal at the end.” After his press conference ends, Bruce spends a few minutes hanging out with everyone around him before saying his goodbyes. Earlier in the day, Bruce said one of the things he misses most about Washington D.C. is the people. He makes sure he says goodbye to every single person before he makes his way to the team bus.
10:15 p.m. – The bus departs Verizon Center for the 35-minute commute to Washington Dulles International Airport, in Sterling, Virginia.
11:00 p.m. – Hiller stands in the walkway of the airplane and still has his locker room blooper on his mind. “Good thing I still had my gear on,” he says with a laugh.
11:49 p.m. – The team charter takes off from Dulles for a five-hour flight back to LAX. The league-leading Ducks come home riding a franchise-best nine-game winning streak, including a perfect 4-0 road trip entering the Christmas break. The Ducks won’t play again until Dec. 28, when they host the Phoenix Coyotes at Honda Center.