Willie Desjardins and Bob Hartley have both been there before.
They’ve both been behind the bench, leading their teams to championships in pressure packed situations. Bob Hartley did it with a loaded Colorado Avalanche team back in 2001, as they hoisted the Stanley Cup after suffering two straight defeats in the Western Conference Final.
Although not at the NHL level, Desjardins has tasted championship glory more recently. He led the Texas Stars of the AHL to the Calder Cup last season, after finishing the regular season as the best team in the league.
After their previous success, it shouldn’t be a surprise that both coaches have excelled this season.
Hartley’s Hot Hand
Hartley’s Flames were suppose to slip into the bottom of the standings, but instead they displayed tenacity all season long. On December 20th, the Flames lost to the Canucks 3-2 in a shootout, their eighth straight loss. They were only ninth in the Conference, but many believed they were going to continue their slide down the standings.
Nobody gave the memo to Hartley. His team went on to win their next four games. It was their worst slump of the season but regardless they remained in the playoff hunt. Hartley put together the top line of Monahan, Hudler, and Gaudreau, which has remained the main force of Calgary’s offence all season long.
That line somewhat resembles the top line on the 2001 Avalanche Stanley Cup winning team. Joe Sakic was the first line pivot with two younger wingers, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay on his side.
Calgary’s top line showed up when it was most important in their playoff-clinching game versus Los Angeles. Monahan, Gaudreau, and Hudler all found the scoresheet, with Hudler and Gaudreau both finding the back of the net. It was a fitting scenario for the Flames and their fans to knock off the Stanley Cup champs after battling and overachieving all season long.
Desjardins Has Been “Real Good”
Fun fact: Willie Desjardins has said “real good” in 48 different Postmedia (Vancouver Sun + Province) news stories this year.
— Harrison Mooney (@HarrisonMooney) April 15, 2015
Although not to the same extent as the Calgary Flames, Desjardins and his Canucks have exceeded expectations this season as well. The only disappointment about Tortorella not being behind the bench is that fans won’t get to see what happens when the coaches shake hands at the end of the series.
Desjardins has been involved in a lot of hockey games over the past two seasons, and he hopes to recapture the same success that he had with the Texas Stars last season.
His first season in Vancouver has been a roaring success. He took a team coming off of a lacklustre season, a team that was the second-oldest in the league coming into the season. He came in and led the Canucks back to relevance once again.
— Brad Fay (@SNBradFay) April 9, 2015
Desjardins and Jim Benning said they wanted to roll four lines, and they kept their promise. The Canucks had 11 forwards score at least ten goals this season. They were the only team in the league to achieve that feat. His Texas Stars team from last season boasted ten forwards who had at least 12 goals during the regular season.
He has made the necessary adjustments to the lineup when necessary. He took Radim Vrbata off of the top unit and put him on the second line which has paid dividends. It helped awake Nick Bonino from his offensive slumber, and gave the Canucks two viable scoring options.
The Canucks fourth line crafted by Desjardins hardly plays like a fourth line. It started off with Horvat, Hansen, and Dorsett, but the Latvian Locomotive, Ronalds Kenins, is now occupying the spot on that line. They possess a great combination of speed and physicality, and they have been trusted in many situations throughout the season.
So who’s it going to be? Hartley and his youthful and exuberant Calgary squad, or Desjardins’ Canucks and their four line attack?
However it pans out, both these coaches deserve some recognition for their outstanding seasons.