MONTREAL - Rene Bourque had just nine goals and 16 points in 63 regular season games, but the Canadiens forward has become a key cog in Montreal's offence during the playoffs.
A trade bait name brought up over and over again on local radio, web message boards and social media all season, Bourque netted his first career playoff hat trick in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final Tuesday, giving him eight goals and 11 points in 16 playoffs games and helping his team stave off elimination with a 7-4 victory over the New York Rangers.
A while his sudden emergence as a scoring threat in the playoffs has surprised many, it's nothing new to his teammates. Despite his regular season struggles, they never doubted the 6'2, 217-pound power forward would shine through when it mattered most.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again, he's got world class speed and a world class shot and it's showing right now in the playoffs," said forward Max Pacioretty, who also chipped in Tuesday night with a goal and an assist.
"He's a bigger body and he plays a simple game and that suits him well in the playoffs. It's a great time for him to step up and he was huge tonight, he helped out a lot."
After the Canadiens blew a 4-1 lead in the second period on Tuesday night, Bourque halted the Rangers' comeback scoring his second goal of the game at 15:10 of the second period to make the score 5-4 and give Montreal a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Bourque then added another goal at 6:33 of the third period to complete the hat trick and help the Canadiens avoid elimination for the third time in these Stanley Cup playoffs. Montreal will try to repeat the feat for a fourth time in Game 6 in New York on Thursday and force a Game 7 back in Montreal on Saturday.
"Even going back to last year, he just loves this time of year," said forward Brendan Gallagher. "He's leading by example again. For him to go out there and score not only three goals but very timely goals was big. Anytime you give up the lead like that and can come right back and score that's big. That's what clutch guys do at this time of year, they score timely goals."
Since being acquired from Calgary two years ago in a trade that saw popular scorer Michael Cammalleri go the other way, many have doubted Bourque's role on this team.
But not Gallagher and his teammates. They saw a hard-working character player that could come up big when it mattered most.
"You just gotta understand the character he has," Gallagher explained. "He's big. He's a guy that we rely on. He showed up and that's what we expect from him. He's a competitor. He loves the atmosphere and he loves the opportunity we have right now and that's kind of expected from him."
Michel Therrien was also thrilled with Bourque's performance.
"He played a great game; he was a force out there," the Canadiens head coach said. "On the forecheck, he took the man. He was moving his feet. He was going hard to the map mat. He's a very good scorer, so definitely that was a great performance by him."
The always quite and humble Bourque wasn't about to take all the credit though.
"Everybody was ready for this game," he said after the game. "We knew the situation. We got a big power-play goal early and a few others.
"It was just a see-saw battle back and forth. (Dale) Weise made a great play to me. I called for the puck and somehow it got through. It was nice to get in there."
The pucks have gotten through for Bourque just one less time than they did in the regular season and the Canadiens are hoping his clutch run continues as they try to come back from what is now a one-game deficit.
James Murphy is a freelance reporter who also writes for NHL.com, the Boston Herald and XNsports.com. He covered the Boston Bruins/NHL for last 11 seasons writing for ESPNBoston.com, ESPN.com, NHL.com, NESN.com, the Boston Metro, Insidehockey.com and Le Hockey Magazine. Murphy also currently hosts the radio show "Murphy's Hockey Law" heard Saturdays 9-11 AM ET on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio and 4-6 PM ET on Websportsmedia.com. In addition to that, he is a regular guest TSN 690 in Montreal and Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio as well as a hockey analyst on CTV Montreal.