- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

DENVER Ray Bourque was the Boston Bruins until last year. The team probably could have renamed itself the Bourques without much protest from Bruins boosters.
But after reaching the Stanley Cup finals twice in his first 11 years, Boston won just six playoff series the next nine seasons. Bourque, the Bruins' all-time leader in games, points and assists in the regular season and the playoffs, was 39 years old and still without a ring.
No player in NHL history had played so many games without his name engraved on the Cup. If Bourque stayed in Boston, he almost certainly would keep that unenviable distinction. So after much hand-wringing, Bourque went to Bruins general manager Harry Sinden in February 2000 and asked to be traded.
The defenseman was dealt to Colorado the next month. The Avalanche fell a victory shy of the finals last spring but made it this time. Colorado opens the best-of-7 finals against the defending champion New Jersey Devils at home on Saturday.
"It's such relief and such satisfaction," Bourque said after the Avalanche closed out St. Louis with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Monday night. "There was a lot of emotion at the end. I'm thrilled to go back [to the finals]."
It has been 11 years since Bourque and the Bruins lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the finals for the second time in three seasons.
"It was a tough decision to finally ask out [of Boston], but it really has been worth it for me," Bourque said. "We've had a great season. My year[-plus] here has been very enjoyable, a great experience… . This has been a long time coming. This is why I came here, for this opportunity. I'm trying to win something I haven't won in my career, and I think there are a lot of people, especially in Boston, who are really pulling for me. It would be a great story. I know I'm running out of time.
At 40, Bourque is the league's oldest player he made his NHL debut before teammates Martin Skoula and Alex Tanguay were born but he still plays about 30 minutes a game. His 59 points this season tied him for third among NHL defensemen and were his most in five years, as were his 52 assists and plus-25 defensive rating.
"I don't think I've had to make many concessions to age," Bourque said. "My game has probably been the same for the last five or six years. Once you lose that little bit of quickness that allows you maybe to be more offensive, to create more from the backside, then you just kind of move the puck, follow the play as close as you can and provide steady, strong defense. So I don't think I've really lost all that much. If you know how to play the game and you go out and play hard, not much changes. I think I've played well this season."
And into the playoffs. Bourque's three goals are his most since the 1992 postseason, and he's a big reason why the Avalanche are allowing just 1.88 goals a game this spring.
"I grew up watching this guy, so when he first got traded here I was kind of in awe," said Colorado defenseman Jon Klemm, a six-year veteran. "I would just sit here staring at him across the locker room. But now that Ray has been here a while, he's one of the boys. Here's a 40-year-old guy who still logs 30 minutes a night and still contributes. He's so smooth and relaxed back there. He doesn't make many mistakes. Playing with him is a real learning experience."
Bourque has more assists (1,169) than anyone except Wayne Gretzky, more goals (410) and points (1,579) than any defenseman and has played in more games (1,611) than anyone except Gordie Howe and Larry Murphy. And now the 6-foot, 223-pound Montreal native is just four victories away from the only goal he hasn't accomplished.
"I've never won my last game, so last year was tough because we got so close, but I was thankful for the opportunity and I knew I would have another good opportunity this year," Bourque said.
Opportunity's knocking louder than it has in more than a decade for Bourque, who may well retire if he and the Avalanche win the Cup.


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