TORONTO – Rene Bourque helped the Habs leave the ACC with two big points by chipping in with a pair of his own.
After watching the past five games as a healthy scratch, Bourque made a triumphant return to the lineup on Saturday against the Leafs. With a goal, an assist and six shots in his first game since March 8 in San Jose, the 32-year-old winger was on a mission to make sure he won’t be watching from the pressbox again anytime soon.
“I felt good. I was just trying to play simple. I thought with Danny [Briere] and Gio [Brian Gionta] we played well and had a couple of chances and hopefully it continues to go like that,” shared Bourque, who finished with a plus-one differential in his 11:52 of action in Toronto. “I played with Gio quite a bit my first couple of years. He’s a good player and Danny in the middle is good at distributing the puck. I thought we had a lot of chances today where we cycled the puck and somebody was behind the net or out front and we got lucky a few times.”
The Lac La Biche, AB native wasted little time making his presence felt on the ice – and on the scoresheet – following up Max Pacioretty’s opening goal with his 17th of the campaign early on in the first period, before setting the table for Gionta’s go-ahead goal with under a minute to go in the opening frame.
“I think I got my message loud and clear,” he admitted of Therrien’s decision to leave him out of the lineup after he had accumulated just one assist in seven games coming out of the Olympic break. “It was nice to have chances and I just wanted to get that one on net and somehow it fooled him. It was a close game. Every time we’ve played them this year it’s been down to the wire so it was nice to get a big goal late like that from Pleky [Tomas Plekanec] and get the two points.”
Looking to fire up his troops by any means possible, Therrien re-inserted Bourque into the lineup looking to see how the veteran winger would bounce back against the league’s hardest-hitting team.
“He responded really well. That’s what you want to see from a player like him,” confirmed Therrien, whose team is now one point back of Tampa in the hunt for home ice advantage heading into the playoffs. “He showed he was hungry tonight; he was going hard to the net, making plays and he was solid overall. I really liked the contribution we got from his line with Daniel Briere and Brian GIonta. They scored some big goals tonight.”
Widening the gap between themselves and their division rivals with the win on Saturday night, the Habs now have a comfortable buffer between their current spot at No. 3 in the Atlantic and needing to fight it out for a wild card berth down the stretch.
“As a group we want to make sure we’re getting pucks to the net no matter who’s in there,” confirmed Gionta, who also had a goal and an assist against the Leafs. “Tonight when we got an opportunity to shoot, we took it and we got some guys to the net for rebounds. It was a huge game with them right on their heels in a four point swing. It was a big two points for us.”
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs get underway, the Canadiens know a lot can change with 20 points still up for grabs. Heading to Boston to face the NHL’s hottest team – and the first franchise in the league to clinch a playoff berth this season – the Habs will need another effort like Saturday’s come Monday night if they want to knock off the top seed in the East.
“We understood what was at stake in this game,” explained the Habs’ head coach. “Both teams needed these points; we showed we were ready to play from the start. We really dictated the pace right from the beginning. That’s what we need to do every night.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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