Rene Bourque is off to a quick start in this year's playoffs. Is he stealing a page from the Dustin Penner book of sleepwalking just in time to do some damage for the Montreal Canadiens?
Nobody could sleepwalk through a season the way Dustin Penner did the past few years in California. Then come the Stanley Cup playoffs in the springtime and Penner would come to life.
Is Montreal's Rene Bourque the Dustin Penner of this year's playoffs? With three goals in three Canadiens wins – and probably nary a mention in a hockey pool from coast to coast – Bourque is up from his season-long slumber.
If the Canadiens are to do any damage in the second round of the playoffs (yes, this is getting ahead of things slightly, but it's just postulating), they're going to need secondary scoring and physical play from the big body of the big man from Lac La Biche, Alta. At his best, Bourque can be Milan Lucic. Problem is, Bourque has rarely been at his best in recent seasons.
There was a time, early in the 2010-11 season, when Bourque was clearly the best player on the Calgary Flames. It was mid-November and Jarome Iginla was slow out of the gate (two goals through 15 games) and the team was reeling. Bourque had just signed a six-year deal with Calgary for $20 million and looked like he was on a mission. He was skating, he was hitting, he was scoring and he looked as though he was crossing the threshold from being a solid second-liner to a dominating power forward capable of scoring 40 goals. He had eight goals and 14 points through 13 games.
Iggy eventually found his rhythm and Bourque soon settled into his second-line support role, matching the 27 goals he had the previous season. Since then, however, Bourque has been the Canadian version of Penner, sans the flapjacks.
For the past few seasons, Penner has been at times invisible during the regular season – including occasional stretches as a healthy scratch – only to stir like a bed of tulips when the warm spring weather comes around. After averaging 25 goals a season for five years with Anaheim and Edmonton, Penner scored just seven times in 2011-12. But he was a two-way physical force in the playoffs helping the Kings win the Stanley Cup. Penner slipped to just two goals in 33 games last season, then after a hot start this year (nine goals and 23 points in 24 games), he got lost in the woodwork with just five goals and 12 points in 43 games, finishing the term in Washington.
This brings us back to Bourque. Things got so bad for him early in the 2011-12 season, he was eviscerated on-air by normally mild-manner Hockey Night In Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey during a 60-second tirade you can see on youtube. Hrudey said Bourque had zero passion for the game and should apologize to his teammates for his lack of effort.
Bourque was traded to Montreal with a second round pick (Zach Fucale) for Mike Cammalleri and Karri Ramo. Since the deal, Bourque has just 21 goals in 128 regular season games, a scoring pace of 13 goals per 82 games.
As Hrudey pointed out a few years ago, Bourque has all the tools to be a difference maker. He just has to want it. If he wants it this springtime like big-man Penner did in previous years, the Canadiens will be playing well into May.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN