EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 27, 2011

Bourque to B's: Create identity tonight

Bill Burt

Other than spending their long and illustrious Hall of Fame careers playing here in Boston for the Bruins and Celtics, respectively, you might not think to link Ray Bourque and Bill Russell together.

Bourque is a native of Montreal. Russell is a native of San Francisco.

Bourque is 50. Russell is 77.

Bourque won one Stanley Cup championship with the Colorado Avalanche, never winning a title in Boston. Russell, who might be the greatest winner of them all, copped 11 championships here.

But the Boston sports legends have something else in common, something that correlates to what is happening tonight when the Bruins face the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They were money when it was time to play Game 7.

Russell never lost a Game 7. Never. His Celtics were 10-0 when it was do or die, a record that can't be broken.

Bourque, believe it or not, isn't that far behind. In fact, when Bourque played for the Bruins in a Game 7, which happened six times, the Bruins won them all.

Bourque's Avs lost one Game 7 after he was traded there in 1999, but a year later, the Avs won two seventh games, including the memorable Stanley Cup clincher over the New Jersey Devils.

"Yes, I remember that one a little bit," said Bourque with a chuckle.

While the record shows that the Bruins lost a seventh game in the 1982 playoffs against Quebec during Bourque's tenure here, he has an alibi. He was in the press box wearing a cast for that one.

"That was tough to watch," he recalled. "It was early in the series and I was trying to go by (Andre) Dupont and he hip-checked me. I slammed my wrist. It was broken."

Seriously, though, Bourque is a quintessential expert on this subject.

In fact, the subject makes his a little giddy with excitement.

"You try to tell yourself to look at it as a normal game, but it's really hard to do," said Bourque. "I remember thinking about it the day before, the night before. Then you wake up, it's all you think about it. It's very stressful, but it's also a very exciting time."

Bourque says he has distinct memories of all the Game 7s in Boston.

Two of them stick out among the rest, in 1988 and 1990. Both, like tonight's game, came in the conference championships.

"(In 1988), beating New Jersey, was a special game, one I'll never forget. That was the series that we had the replacement refs in New Jersey," said Bourque, referring to the time when the NHL referees didn't show up for Game 4 protesting the treatment by Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld. "We found a way to take control of the game and just found a way to win. For that group of guys, it was our first go-around together and our first opportunity to play for the Cup."

The 1990 conference championship series win over Hartford sticks out because it led to another opportunity for pro hockey's Holy Grail.

"I'll never forget it. Reggie Lemelin made an incredible save on Pat Verbeek," said Bourque. "We were up a goal and it should have gone in. But Reggie saved it. I remember that save giving us so much adrenaline. It saved our butts. And it was the reason we were able to go to the Stanley Cup."

Bourque's last game of his career with the Avs was a Game 7. But even more impressive was the fact that Bourque's team New Jersey in Game 6 (4-0) to set up the finale, which the Avs won 3-1.

It was the most exciting day in hockey, bar none.

"The day of the game I called a sports psychologist in Boston," recalled Bourque. "I wanted to make sure I kept everything in check, that I wasn't going to make too much of the moment.

"We had a really good start, and led 3-0," Bourque remembered. "I remember one time during the game saying, 'Are you kidding me? I'm going to win a Cup.' But then I caught myself on the bench and told myself, 'Hey, get back here. The game isn't over.'"

Which brings us to tonight and his advice for the Bruins, the team is rooting for like he's never rooted before.

"First off, the fact that they are home is an advantage," said Bourque. "But it's important that they get off to a good start and keep the fans into the game. That can really steam roll the other team.

"They are going to be excited, just like I always was, but you have to channel that energy and excitement, and not get over-hyped, and not over-think things," said Bourque. "If they play the way they are supposed to play, which is always trying to pressure on the puck, then the game will be their kind of game."

Bourque will be at the TD Garden tonight like he has for all but three of the playoff games in Boston.

In a strange way he feels like he is playing, too.

"I really like this Bruins team," said Bourque. "I love the way they've always bounced back. They've had some moments when they've looked really good, then all of sudden it turns the other way. But they've bounced back.

"I also like the way they play defense," said Bourque. "They stay with the program. They put pressure on the other team all over the ice. They don't give you a lot of room or a lot of time."

In fact, Bourque likens this team to his teams that went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1988 and 1990.

"The core of the team has been together for a few years and each year they keep getting better," said Bourque. "I'm really proud of what they've accomplished. People have doubted them, but they're still playing. They are also still finding their identity as a group and (tonight) could be a big step in that direction. I can't wait."

Ditto.