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Ray Bourque Lifts the Stanley Cup Thanks to an Avalanche of NHL Talent

No matter how talented a player you may be, becoming a Stanley Cup champion can prove to be elusive. And so was the story of Hall of Fame Canadian defenseman Raymond Bourque for 20 years. He was drafted eighth overall by the Boston Bruins in 1979, and the first-round pick went on to an illustrious career in the NHL.

Ray Bourque was elected to the All-Star team nearly every year of his career. With 13 First-team selections and six second-team selections, he played in 19 NHL All-Star games. In addition to that, he was a five-time Norris Trophy winner in Boston. The Norris Trophy is given to the National Hockey League's top "defensive player who demonstrates through the season the greatest all-round ability in the position." Only Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, and fellow Bruins legend Bobby Orr have more to their name.

Aside from the Norris, Bourque has also been awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy, King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and Lester Patrick Trophy.

But Lord Stanley's Cup? Never ended up in Bourque's hands.

Ray Bourque's Long Quest for a Stanley Cup

Ray Bourque handles the puck for the Boston Bruins.

Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images

In his 20 full seasons in Boston, Bourque never scored fewer than 10 goals nor racked up fewer than 28 assists. His averages over that time were over 18 goals and 52 assists per season. That's astronomical. And we're just talking regular season.

In the playoffs, Bourque had made 180 appearances, only missing the playoffs once in 1996-1997. In that time, he racked up 36 goals and 125 assists. So, for Boston, he was mister consistency whether it be regular season or postseason. And the face of the franchise for over two decades. As a member of an original six team, Ray Bourque had etched his name into Bruins lore.

And yet, the future Hall of Famer was lacking one thing every hockey player hopes to achieve: winning a Stanley Cup Final. It was time for the Montreal native to figure out the next steps. On March 6, 2000, Ray Bourque, along with Dave Andreychuk, was sent to the Colorado Avalanche for Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier, Samuel Påhlsson, and a first-round draft pick who eventually became Martin Samuelsson.

For Bruins fans, this was devastating. But there were two sides to that coin. On the one hand, it was awful seeing No. 77 have played his final game at the Garden, and moving on to something new. On the other, you wanted nothing more than to watch Ray lift the Cup himself for the first time. And there was a twinge of guilt that it wasn't able to get done in Boston.

A Colorado Avalanche of Legendary Talent

Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy share a moment in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

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With the Avs, Bourque was joining a team comprised of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, and legendary goalie Patrick Roy. In that partial season in Colorado, Bourque played 14 games and averaged a point per game with eight goals and six assists. The Avalanche cruised to a division title and found their way to the Western Conference finals that year. Only the Dallas Stars stood in the way of The Avs getting to the final stage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

However, it was that first full season in Denver that finally helped Ray Bourque skate to the promised land. After a 59-point season, his highest total in six years, Bourque was the definition of grit and determination. The 13-time NHL All-Star got to his second-ever Stanley Cup Finals hoping for a different outcome. In 1988, The Bruins had faced the Edmonton Oilers, but were swept in four games. This time, it would be different.

The Avs were able to push the New Jersey Devils to a pivotal Game 7. And that moment felt like the culmination of the career of one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game. Far removed from the 1979 NHL Draft, it was truly now or never. While he still clearly had gas left in the tank, 22 years in the NHL is a grueling commitment.

But going up against the likes of future Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, and Scott Stevens was not going to be an easy task. This series already felt poetic for a number of reasons, though. One, the Devils were a franchise that originated in Denver as the Colorado Rockies, before making their way east in 1982. Two, it was pushed to seven games, and Raymond Bourque was on the precipice of adding to his greatness.

When Alex Tanguay scored with 4:57 left in the second period, nobody yet knew that would be the game-winner. But, when that siren sounded as time expired in the third period, the hockey world breathed a sigh of relief.

Commissioner Gary Bettman presented Colorado captain Joe Sakic Lord Stanley's cup.

Then, Sakic did something that pulled at all of our heartstrings.

Joe Sakic doesn't lift the Cup first, a right that is his as team captain. Instead, Joe takes the Cup from Bettman, skated over to Bourque and gave him the honors. With the Cup raised triumphantly over his head, we all saw what we had hoped to see happen in Boston: Ray Bourque was finally a Stanley Cup Champion. He was overcome with emotion. We were overcome with emotion. A living legend had finally reached the highest peak of his sport and career. It is a perfect sports moment. 

Rather poetically, that was the last game of Ray Bourque's illustrious career. All the blood, sweat, and tears had culminated in a moment that allowed the Canadian to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame on top.

Joe Sakic and Ray Bourque celebrate the Colorado Avalanche winning the 2001 Stanley Cup.

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That image forever will be etched into our minds, and gives the Avalanche something to aspire to as they go to battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first return to the finals since Ray's big day. The Lightning are going for a third consecutive championship, while Colorado looks to go a perfect 3 for 3 in their history.

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