By Phil Stacey
---- — BOSTON — The top of the walls inside the Boston Bruins locker room are decorated with dozens of Hall of Famers that have skated wearing the spoked-B over the years.
Among them is Raymond Bourque, the team’s longest serving captain who played more than 20 years in black-and-gold and is generally regarded as one of hockey’s best-ever defensemen.
His oldest son, Chris, now has a stall of his own inside that locker room approximately 15 feet from where his father’s image looks down.
Closing in on his 27th birthday, Chris Bourque realized a dream Saturday night when he played his first game for the Boston Bruins in a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers as the National Hockey League returned after a nearly four-month lockout.
Wearing No. 48, the Boxford native seemed comfortable and confident skating the left wing on the team’s third line, assimilating nicely onto a veteran team where he is the only new forward in the mix.
“I thought it was my best game of the season in all three zones, including (the 32 AHL games he played earlier this season in) Providence,” confided Bourque.
A fast, skilled winger who has scored at every level he’s played — Bourque led the AHL in scoring a year ago with 93 points — he’s never stuck in the NHL in his two previous stints (with Washington and Pittsburgh) in large part because he’s never had a prolonged chance to show what he can do at this level. He’s hoping he’s finally found a home in Boston, a squad two years removed from a Stanley Cup and hungry to challenge for the silver chalice again in this shortened 48-game regular season.
Alongside veterans Chris Kelly at center and Rich Peverley at right wing, Bourque logged 12 minutes and 46 seconds of ice time over 18 shifts, which he figured was longer than he played in any of his previous 33 NHL games. He also skated with the Bruins’ second power play unit with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, lining up along the half-wall on both sides of the ice, and seemed to find his rhythm early on.
For the game, the 5-foot-8, 174-pounder finished with one hit (on the Rangers’ Derek Stepan in front of the Boston bench) and missed wide on two shot attempts, including one that sailed high over the crossbar with the New York net vacated and just 85 seconds to play.
“I don’t want my first goal to be an empty netter,” he said with a chuckle. “I want the goalie to be in there; that’s my excuse why.
One of the defenseman’s sticks was right in the (shooting) lane, so I tried to get it over and it kind of sailed on me there. Obviously, I got a little too excited.”
By suiting up Saturday night, Bourque and his father became the fifth father-son duo to lace ‘em up for the Bruins, joining Ken and Kenny Hodge, Ron and John Grahame, Albert G. and Albert T. DeMarcos, and Harvey and Bill Bennett.
If Bourque was excited, nervous or felt pressure, it certainly didn’t show to his teammates. Before a large crowd of family and friends including his wife, infant son, parents and even family from Montreal, Bourque looked like he belonged.
“You can see Chris has that confidence in him from playing during the lockout,” said fellow Bruins left winger Daniel Paille. “He brings that element playing with Kel and Pevs. They find ways to create scoring chances, and Chris adds to that.”
“He played well, and we expect him to play well,” added defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who had a goal in the opener on his 29th birthday. “I like seeing him on that line; those are three good players. With Chris up there, he’s a fast, skilled player who adds to an already great line.”
While they would certainly welcome an infusion of offense at any time, the Bruins didn’t keep Bourque with the big club because they want him to light up the scoreboard each night. Rather, they want — make that need — him to be solid in all three zones, particularly in his defensive end, if he wants to ultimately stick with them.
“This team prides itself on defense first, and if you want to play on this team you have to focus on that,” he acknowledged. “I tried to really focus on (those) small details: chipping it out, chipping it in, being real solid. I think everyone did that pretty well tonight; that’s probably why we won.
“I think those are the kind of games the Bruins want. All four lines played solid, Tuukka (Rask) played great as usual (in goal) and we got some offense from almost every line. It was a great team effort.”
Bourque will be back in the lineup this afternoon at TD Garden as the Bruins host Winnipeg. He hopes, through his adherence to the team’s defense-first mantra and being able to work cohesively with Kelly and Peverley, that he’s here for the long haul.
“Obviously this is a moment I’ve been thinking about since I was a little kid ... to get that first game out of the way was exciting for me,” said Bourque.
“I know for me it’s about defense first and keeping it simple. If I do those two things, everything else will take care of itself.”