Chris Bourque willing to take on any role with B's

816168.jpg

Chris Bourque willing to take on any role with B's

It was clearly a dream come true for Chris Bourque when he got the phone call from Peter Chiarelli that he was joining the Bruins organization.
He grew up north of Boston and his dad, Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, was one of the best to ever pull on the black and gold sweater, and those are just two of the zillion or so reasons why the Bruins were the perfect fit.
So while it was flattering to have the Bruins exchange first-round disappointment Zach Hamill to Washington for his rights prior to him becoming an unrestricted free agent, Bourque said the Bruins were going to be his top attraction if he made it into free agency after July 1.
They could have had me for free. I was going to be unrestricted and if they put up any kind of offer they were going to have the big edge with me being able to play in front of all my friends and family. It would have been intriguing to me no matter what, said Bourque, who scored the OT game-winner in the Beanpot in his one and only year at Boston University. I was looking forward to seeing who might be interested and Boston was always at the top of that list.
When they traded for me, I was just thrilled. I had a good talk with Mr. Chiarelli when I signed. He told me that I was going to have a good shot to make the NHL team. Theres a lot of history here between my family and the Bruins, obviously. I grew up idolizing Cam Neely, Adam Oates and my dadto get to see them up close at the rink every day as a kid was special. Now with what the Bruins have meant to the city over the last few years; it seems like it would be so much fun to be a part of.
Bourques willingness to do whatever it takes speaks to how badly he wants to carry on the family tradition on Causeway Street, and he may have to do just that while breaking through that NHL ceiling. The youngster watched as guys like Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle got their NHL chances in the Capitals organization, and Bourque is looking for that same thing in Boston.
Thats all Ive ever asked for. Its up to me to do the rest and bring some energy to the team. Im known as more of a playmaker, but Ill play any kind of role that they need me to, said Bourque. Whether its on the power play or the penalty kill Im just hoping they give me the chance to show I can do.
The 26-year-old Bourque might also be walking into a perfect fit with the Bruins at the NHL level: theres a third-line winger role up for grabs among 21-year-old Jordan Caron, fresh-faced rookies like Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight, and the eldest son in the Boston Bourque clan. The bottom-six forward role might not be the natural long-term spot for a 5-foot-8 skill player thats coming off a 27-goal, 93-point performance in the AHL for the Hershey Bears, but Bourque thinks that may be the best passageway into a permanent NHL spot.
Its reasonable to think given the proper chance he could match or surpass the 16 goals and 32 points produced by a hit-or-miss Benoit Pouliot in that role last season. Thats what it sounds as if Bourque has his sights set on.
Maybe starting off in the bottom-six would be the perfect way to ease into things. I like to bring a lot of energy to the game. Ill get in on the forecheck and Ill pitch in offensively when I can, said Bourque. Any role is fine, though. Id play defense or goalie if it gets me into the NHL with a full-time job. Thats the main goal.
It can be tough to tell because things havent translated for me from the AHL to the NHL. But hopefully the change of scenery helps me turn into the NHL player that I think I am know that Im going to be.
On the Bruins end of things, Chiarelli sees the offensive promise Bourque has shown at the AHL level and envisions him making the adjustment despite four points and a minus-6 in 33 games of sporadic actions for the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. He also sees the third line possibilities that could make him a legit candidate for a checkingenergy role with some offensive upside skating alongside guys such as Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
He does have the ability to shoot to find seams, but he also has a great element to his game where that if he has to play lower down the line he can do that. I told him, among other things, that hell need like another quarter step to maintain it at this level, said Chiarelli. If he gets that and I think he will -- hes another guy whos relatively young, and that hell be able to play at this level on a regular basis.
I think hes got a good chance of making our team. I told him basically that hes just not here to go to Providence. Hes very keen about being a Bruin and Im happy to have him in the organization.
Now its little more than two months away from Bourque getting his big chance to play for the hockey club hes always dreamed about from the time he learned how to skate. Hes as ready as hes ever going to be to make the leap, and the Bruins are just as willing and ready to catch him.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.