If Brendan Gallagher and Travis Moen had gone to the tomb and found the stone rolled back, with the spirits of the Rocket and Doug Harvey standing there in blinding white announcing "He is risen," it would be no more unlikely than the rebirth of Rene Bourque in these playoffs. He proved again on Easter Sunday that there is such a thing as resurrection. Well, at least the resurrection of a hockey career.
Two weeks ago, there wasn't a Habs fan on the planet who wouldn't have seriously considered paying another team to take him away, just to clear up a roster spot. And, the majority opinion wasn't wrong. Bourque sucked this year. With 16 points in 63 games, he recorded the most dismal points total of his NHL career. He alternated from "complete disinterest and invisibility" to "trying, but completely unable to hit any part of the net other than the post." (Seriously, how many posts did Bourque hit this year?!) Given time with every centre on the team other than David Desharnais, he seemed to click with none of them. While he had limited ice time, largely because of his ineffectiveness, he still got over a minute a night on the PP, which didn't seem to motivate him much. No matter what the team tried to do with him, Bourque was deemed by many to be a lost cause. Dead weight in a lineup that needed solid oak on the right wing. When he finally sat for five straight games as a healthy scratch, his career looked ready for Last Rites.
Fast forward to opening night of the playoffs and Bourque wasn't only noticeable, he was effective. Effective. Rene Bourque. Unless in reference to his ability to look pretty in his many shirtless 24CH cameos, those three words weren't used in the same sentence all year. Yet, there he was, on the left side with Brian Gionta and the previously equally-underachieving Lars Eller, and he was unrecognizable as the slug we saw slide his way through the regular season. This Bourque was fast, relentless, strong and skilled. He was a threat whenever he was on the ice, and he gave his line a chance to make a difference on every shift. He was a Super Bourque. In Games Two and Three he was even better, scoring crucial goals and helping Eller and Gionta raise their level of play as well. The line people were hoping would at best be a limited liability has been leading the way.
As the complaining about the where the hell this Bourque has been all year fades, fans are realizing the value of what he's finally bringing now. Before the playoffs, when Jon Cooper was drawing up Tampa's strategy for beating the Habs, you can bet it focused on containing Max Pacioretty, Thomas Vanek and Desharnais. He may have talked about countering Tomas Plekanec's inevitable checking of Steven Stamkos, and about rushing the Habs defence and crashing Carey Price's crease. Few would have predicted that by the end of Game Three, Pacioretty would have no goals and Rene Bourque would have three. Bourque was an afterthought in Cooper's game plan, because he made himself one all year. Now that he's become Super Bourque, Cooper and the Bolts have no answer for him.
This is what teams need to win in the playoffs. A healthy team with good goaltending, motivated players and the surprise awakening of a 6'2" power forward is hard to contain. Bourque is giving opposing defencemen fits because the new, fearless #17 is using his speed to blow by them, and his strength to push through them. Sooner or later, coaches are going to have to assign coverage to his line, which means less attention on Pacioretty and Vanek. And, of course, a guy like Pacioretty isn't going to go goalless forever. It means Cooper has almost run out of time in which to redraw his game plan, as his team survives on life support.
This is the best possible development for the Habs post-season hopes. If two strong lines were dangerous, the resurrection of Bourque gives the Canadiens an outright lethal three scoring lines. The question now, of course, is how long it will stay this way. It's a joy to watch Bourque raise his game from the dead and use his talent to its full extent. With a round-one series still to close out and a date with the Bruins or Wings looming, he'll be needed.
As with all resurrections, though, it's better late than never. And, standing in the bright light of a new day, it's hard to remember just how dark it used to be.