Lost in the aftermath of Martin Havlat's sensational debut was an opener that was just as important for the Blackhawks' fortunes this season.
Rene Bourque, beginning his second season in the NHL and just his third as a professional, had a short-handed goal and a pair of assists playing on a line with center Patrick Sharp and winger Martin Lapointe.
After coming back from a two-goal deficit in the season opener Thursday, the Hawks blew a two-goal first-period lead in Saturday's 5-4 home-opening loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets before 17,133 at the United Center. Columbus scored five straight goals, including three in a span of 2 minutes 44 seconds in the second period.
The Hawks got goals from Sharp and Havlat 23 seconds apart late in the third period.
The Hawks would love to see Bourque tack on maybe 10 goals from his rookie total of 16. That total is impressive considering he was just two years removed from college hockeywhere he went undraftedand that he played most of the year with a strained abdominal muscle that still is bothering him.
"It won't go away," Bourque of the mystery injury. "This year has been a little better. I just have to make sure I warm up well and get it loosened up."
Bourque said there are days when he barely can skate and despite having multiple MRIs to try to find the source of the injury, doctors have yet to pinpoint it.
"It's just a strain, [but] they don't know where it is and can't find anything." Bourque said.
Assuming the injury doesn't get worse, Bourque has a chance to take a big step in his sophomore season with the Hawks. His line would be considered the Hawks' third, which is traditionally a checking or defensive line and plays against the other team's top two lines.
But with the offensive skills that Bourque and Sharp possess, it's also a line that could provide scoring depth.
"A lot of times those other top lines leave themselves vulnerable, so if you have a checking line that has some finish, they can do some damage," Hawks coach Trent Yawney said.
Bourque's points in Thursday's 8-6 victory over Nashville ran the spectrum. He had the goal while killing a penalty and assisted on Sharp's goal at even strength and Bryan Smolinski's power-play goal.
Bourque played 3:38 on the penalty kill in Nashville and Yawney said his defensive abilities are underrated.
"[Bourque] has come a long way in a couple of years in terms of his play away from the puck," Yawney said. "He finally has bought into the fact that good defense leads to good offense. That's why he kills penalties as well."
Yawney said Bourque also loves to score goals and, even while short-handed, Bourque said he will look for scoring opportunities.
"We want to be aggressive on the penalty kill," he said. "If we can intercept passes and have time, both [forwards] are going to fly the zone and maybe get offensive chances."
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