Former Flame Bouwmeester relishing first playoff berth in his own understated style
St. Louis clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday, which means defenceman’s post-season drought will end at 764 games
ST. LOUIS — Playoffs have not started. So, officially, he still doesn’t have a game in the books.
But the wait — the long, long wait — is over.
When the National Hockey League’s post-season begins next week, Jay Bouwmeester, for the first time in his career, will participate.
On Tuesday — Bouwmeester’s 762nd game — the St. Louis Blues, with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche, sealed their springtime fate.
Bouwmeester, as low-key as ever, took the accomplishment in stride.
“It’s good, I guess,” Bouwmeester told St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jeremy Rutherford after the playoff-clinching victory. “It will be fun to play the games. Right now we still have a couple to play . . . I’m not going to get ahead of myself.
“Now it’s sort of business as usual. I think once the (regular-)season is over and once you get right into it, that’s when everyone gets excited. That’s the way I approach it.”
Thursday, Bouwmeester faces his old chums from the Calgary Flames.
“A lot of guys are happy for a guy like Bouw — very deserving of a chance to finally play in the playoffs,” Flames defenceman Chris Butler said Tuesday morning. “I had a chance to talk to him the other day . . . he seems to be enjoying it (in St. Louis).”
For good reason. The Edmonton native is now spared the indignity of matching — or breaking — Olli Jokinen’s record for futility. It took 799 career games for everyone’s favourite Finn to taste the post-season.
Furthermore, Bouwmeester need not field future questions on the unsavoury topic.
“You always believe you’re going to do it,” said the 29-year-old. “Like I said before, I know I’ve played a lot of games and all of that, (but) every year, everyone starts the year with the same approach. That’s your first goal to get in, and then you want to win. That doesn’t change no matter where you are. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, but you never think it’s not going to happen.”
But it would not have happened without a trade.
With the Flames wisely opting for a teardown, as they swirled towards a fourth straight playoff miss, Bouwmeester had been asked to approve a transfer.
Not surprisingly, he did — and St. Louis was listed as a desirable destination.
“I looked at this team and I thought it was a good young team,” said Bouwmeester. “I know from playing against them, it’s a hard team to play against. I knew at the time that nothing was guaranteed. But we got on a bit of a roll and, yeah, I’m happy it worked out the way it did.”
Shipped on April 1 — a first-round pick, defenceman Mark Cundari, goalie Reto Berra went to Calgary — he immediately joined forces with star defender Alex Pietrangelo. Since arriving in St. Louis, the Blues have gone 9-3-0 — a delight, no doubt, for a lean-timer like Bouwmeester.
“Well, he was in the growing stages in Florida, and then he ends up in Calgary and I think there was high expectations there,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “They didn’t meet them. They were close a couple of times in Calgary, but . . . I think you get that stigma and it’s a tough stigma to overcome. But I think he’s a big reason we got where we got right now. Him and (Jordan) Leopold have helped unbelievably well and they’ve done a great job of fitting in with the guys. They’ve really endeared themselves with their teammates here, so it’s nice to see.”
In his dozen games in blue, Bouwmeester has picked up six points, going plus-four in the process.
“He’s been phenomenal for us,” said captain David Backes. “His responsibility in the defensive zone, the way he can join a rush and make plays in the offensive zone, has been phenomenal. He deserves (to be going to the playoffs) as much as anyone, so it’s great to see him get in there. But he knows as much as everyone that it’s not a given.”
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