Hitch has been on notice since last year’s opening-round exit — St. Louis’ second in as many years — and he confirmed it earlier this month, explaining that his future is tied to getting out of Round 1.
“There’s always going to be a question for players and coaches until we win a first round. But it’s a question I’m not afraid to answer,” Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “I don’t know the answer right now but this team is built to go long in series, long in games. We’ve won a lot of games late. We’ve been at our best in the second and third periods. We know we can go the distance.
“Like everyone else I won’t know until it plays out but I’m looking forward to answering the questions.”
St. Louis is 8-13 over its last three playoffs, a record that gnaws at management. The Blues have spent plenty of money on its core group of players, and added high-priced free agent Paul Stastny following the Chicago ouster. The pieces are in place for a Cup run — now — which is why Hitchcok was delivered a message in the form of a one-year extension last May.
“Making the playoffs no longer is good enough,” Blues GM Armstrong said. “There’s some franchises that are losing in the first round that had good years. We’re not one of them.
“We’re a franchise that lost in the first round that did not meet its expectations.”
Consider, for a moment, what Johnston said upon getting hired in Pittsburgh:
“The bottom-line expectation for me is that, from training camp through the first part of the season, everything we do is setting the table for the playoffs. The score is relevant, but it’s not as relevant as the habits that we are going to have to make us successful in the playoffs.
“This is a group that wants to win. They’ve won the Stanley Cup, and I believe they want to do it again.”
The first-year bench boss set the bar with those remarks, and it remains to be seen what happens if he falls short.
We almost got a preview of it on the final day of the regular season, only for Pittsburgh to beat Buffalo and secure the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. While it was hardly the type of qualification many — including Johnston — envisioned, the Pens did make it to the dance (and there is something to be said for that, especially since L.A. and Boston didn’t.)
But as Johnston said, his job wasn’t about getting Pittsburgh into the playoffs. It was about doing something once they got there — and now, things get interesting.
Last week, Pens GM Jim Rutherford didn’t give Johnston a vote of confidence, though that was because Rutherford doesn’t like votes of confidence. Regarding the head coach’s job security, Rutherford said Johnston did “a good job under difficult circumstances.” CEO David Morehouse said much of the same, explaining that “we never even had discussions about people’s jobs,” adding, “we’re very happy to be where we are.”
Management is giving all the right answers, but it’s telling that people are asking the questions.
Boudreau has a great track record in the regular season, with 363 career wins and a Jack Adams trophy on his resume.
Boudreau does not, however, have the same track record in the playoffs.
His lifetime mark — 27-30, a .474 winning percentage — includes just three series wins and zero appearances beyond the second round.
What’s worrisome this year is that a recurring issue throughout Boudreau’s career — goaltending — is once again a factor. He’s yet to decide between John Gibson or Frederik Andersen as his postseason starter, carrying on a rich and colorful tradition:
• In 2009, his second playoff appearance with Washington, Boudreau yanked Jose Theodore in favor of Semyon Varlamov.
• In 2010, after vowing “there is no short leash” for Theodore, Boudreau yanked him in favor of Varlamov. Again.
• In 2014, he played three different netminders. Andersen started the Dallas series, only for Boudreau to shift to Jonas Hiller. Hiller then beat the Stars, started the L.A. series, only for Boudreau to go back to Andersen… and the Danish netminder promptly got hurt. But instead of going back to Hiller, Boudreau threw in Gibson, fresh off a recall from the AHL.
• The Ducks blew a 3-2 series lead, and lost to the Kings in Game 7.
History, as they say, has a way of repeating itself. Wonder what happens in Anaheim if it does.
Have to mention…
Mike Babcock, who isn’t so much coaching for his job as the Red Wings are playing for him to remain their coach… Jack Capuano, who could be feeling some heat if the Isles don’t show much in the opening playoff round.