Bourque has bite

In case you had forgotten while he was on the shelf for eight weeks or so, Rene Bourque is a pretty good gosh-darn hockey player. So good that he’s given Calgary a fighting chance in its playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks even though a number of Flames big-name performers have made minimal contributions so far.

Bourque got a little slash-happy in Game 3, getting whistled three times for going all Paul Bunyan on Chicago players’ sticks, but the lumberjacking was the only blemish on a night Bourque continued to emphatically assert himself on the Western Conference quarter-final set-to. It may seem odd to say so on a night the Flames lost the special-teams battle, were outshot and were the beneficiaries of a pair of fortuitous goals, but Bourque’s efforts were at the forefront of a potential swing in the series. Hey, it’s no coincidence that Adam Burish targeted Calgary’s No. 17 at the end of Monday’s contest.

Already, Patrick Kane has been forced to sit out one game in the series and while the official Chicago party line is that the Blackhawks dynamo has the flu, Bourque’s rude treatment of Kane in the first two games of the series might have just a little to do with any queasiness he is feeling. If you need any proof about the dubious nature of the NHL’s secondary stat-keeping, consider that Bourque is only tied for sixth on the Flames in post-seaosn hits with seven. Seven? Really? As a friend pointed out today, Bourque should have been credited for five hits on the strength of his colossal Game 3 collision with Brent Seabrook alone. And just think, Bourque hadn’t played in nearly two months with one of those nefarious high ankle sprains before returning to the lineup in full dart, dash and disrupt mode at the start of the Chicago series.

Bourque isn’t alone, of course. David Moss, as David Moss does when he is on his game, is being remarkably opportunistic and proving that a forward who hangs tough in the danger zone will occasionally be rewarded. Curtis Glencross is having a pretty good series. Eric Nystrom was unhappy with himself in Game 2 but he’s delivered industry, drive and a work ethic that are worthy of his last name.

Resorting to that old “If we had told you” game, if we had told you that in the first three games the Flames would have gotten a single even-strength goal from the forward group that includes Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Michael Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi and Daymond Langkow, one total power-play tally, zero minutes of ice time from Robyn Regehr, one full game from Cory Sarich and a good but not overwhelming .919 save percentage from Miikka Kiprusoff, would you have believed that Calgary would have been in the series? Would have even been a few lulls away from being up 2-1 or, to stretch a point, maybe 3-0?

A fan’s spirits tend to shift dramatically over the course of a closely contested playoff series, but Flames backers may have a legitimate case in believing their heroes have a real shot to overcome the two-game deficit even though Calgary has won just once in seven meetings with Chicago this season. Jokinen, who is mired in that prolonged goalscoring slump, found a way to contribute in Game 3 after taking a real brain-cramp of a penalty in the early going. And while the whole “Iginla plays better when he’s mad” theory is a tad overblown, it does seem a little foolish for the Blackhawks to be going out of their way to rile the Calgary captain.

All that said, it’s still advantage Chicago given the series score, the medical situation and the Flames’ inability to string together winning efforts in recent weeks. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Martin Havlat are all having very good series and Calgary leads will always be tenuous as long as those dudes are cruising. The threat level will be even greater if Kane shakes off the cobwebs and rejoins the lineup.

But even if Chicago hangs on to win the series, don’t the Blackhawks look like a good young talented team with plenty of good days ahead that isn’t quite ready for a serious run? The Windy City Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players? “You have to learn how to lose before you learn how to win” is one of the most inane sayings in sports, but is there not some validity in the argument that a blossoming team sometimes has to deal with some hard knocks and heartache on the path to potential greatness? The 2006-07 Penguins, El Sid and Geno and all, had to withstand a first-round smackdown at the hands of Ottawa before maturing and improving enough to get to the Stanley Cup final a year later. The ’80s Oilers had to overcome the Miracle on Manchester and some harsh lessons from a crotchety New York Islanders squad that wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the crown before taking the next step. It could be the same story for Chicago, if not in this round then maybe the one after that.

Finally, a follow-up word about everyone’s favourite bald-headed colour man. It’s easy for everyone (including the dolt who fills this space) to pile on to Pierre McGuire and admittedly, his frequently over-the-top style means that much of the ridicule is well deserved. That said, if you can filter out enough of the roof-daddy/monster/double-Dion shtick and turn down the volume before he gets especially excitable, McGuire does deserve some praise. Most of his enthusiasm for the sport is genuine and he better than most has learned to capitalize on his prime vantage point behind the benches. If you’ve been watching the series from the start, you’ll remember that McGuire has been mentioning the excessive verbal abuse from Burish directed at Iginla, which provided context for the ugly scene at the end of Game 3.

The hostilities set the stage for what could and should be a very lively Game 4.