Bouwmeester Ready for Long Playoff Run
Blues defenseman is headed to the postseason for first time in his career
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ST. LOUIS -- Jay Bouwmeester has never been known for his flamboyant personality.
Bouwmeester is known more for a mellow, low-key demeanor, so one could forgive him for not being exuberant when the St. Louis Blues clinched a playoff spot. It means after 764 games in 10 NHL seasons, Bouwmeester will skate in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game when the Blues face the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings beginning Tuesday.
Although Bouwmeester, 29, does have playoff experience -- he went to the Calder Cup Finals with the Chicago Wolves in 2004-05 -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said: "I think it was bantam triple-A, Southside Athletic Club, last time he was in."
Bouwmeester's name forever will be intertwined with the likes of Guy Charron [734 regular-season games, never made the playoffs] and former Calgary Flames teammate Olli Jokinen, who finally made the postseason in 2009 after 799 career games. But Bouwmeester's count can finally end.
"It's good, I guess," Bouwmeester said.
I guess? No high-fives or any long exhale?
"It's nice to know that you're going to get the chance to play [in the postseason]," Bouwmeester said. "… Once the season's over and once you get right into it, then that's when everyone gets excited. That's the way I approach it."
The third pick in the 2002 NHL Draft, Bouwmeester was expected to be the face of the Florida Panthers franchise for a number of years. And in the six seasons Bouwmeester spent with the Panthers, they finished .500 or better in the final four. But all six seasons had a common theme -- no postseason appearances.
When Bouwmeester signed a five-year contract to play for the Flames, it was a move that was expected to make Calgary one of the contenders in the Western Conference for years to come. Again, Bouwmeester's Flames teams had strong regular-season records but no postseason appearances, as the Flames finished with plus-.500 records and 90-plus points in Bouwmeester's first three seasons.
The durable blueliner has carried his current ironman streak of 635 consecutive regular-season games played and has added solid numbers to his resume. But that playoff void has been the black cloud hanging over his career.
"Everyone's in different situations," Bouwmeester said. "We started out with a team that was struggling a bit [in Florida]. Calgary, we didn't have the success that we wanted. For whatever reason, I've been asked that question [about the playoffs] a lot. Every year is kind of a different, fresh start. I guess I've just been answering the question too long that I don't care anymore."
Bouwmeester has heard it all. He's heard about being the high draft pick that never made an impact on the teams he's played for. But in his defense, Bouwmeester's supporting cast never has lived up to expectations, either.
"He was in the growing stages in Florida, and then he ends up in Calgary and I think there were high expectations there and they didn't meet them," Hitchcock said. "They were close a couple times in Calgary.
"You get that stigma, it's a tough stigma to overcome. 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 to their teammates here. It's nice to see."
Bouwmeester saw the direction the Flames were headed this season, and knew a roster overhaul was coming. Bouwmeester and captain Jarome Iginla were the headline players that were expected to be moved.
Iginla waived his no-trade clause to go to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bouwmeester, who also had a no-trade clause in his contract, gave general manager Jay Feaster a list of teams he'd be willing to move to if -- and only if -- the Flames wanted and needed to rid themselves of his cap hit. Bouwmeester has one more year remaining in the deal he signed in 2009.
The Blues were at the top of the list, and with general manager Doug Armstrong admitting the team was after Bouwmeester's services for roughly a year, Bouwmeester didn't find it difficult to leave Calgary, with his wife and young daughter temporarily staying behind.
"I looked at this team and thought it was a good, young team," Bouwmeester said of the Blues, who went 12-3-0 in April [11-3-0 after Bouwmeester's arrival]. "I know from playing against them it's a hard team to play against. I knew at the time nothing was guaranteed. But we got on a bit of a roll and I'm happy that it worked out the way it did.
"It's been good. It's fun winning. I've had a pretty good stretch here. It's a good group of guys that's coming up that's kind of a young group of guys, and you feel a little bit old sometimes. It's been fun. I've enjoyed my time here. Hopefully I'll have a long time here."
Bouwmeester's teammates certainly have appreciated his contributions, including giving the team a complement for Alex Pietrangelo.
"He's been phenomenal for us," Blues captain David Backes said of Bouwmeester. "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 [going to the playoffs] as much as anyone, so it's great to see him get in there. … Those [end-of-season meetings] are not fun meetings to have and watching the playoffs on TV [isn't fun], so we're going to hopefully put it together and stay playing the games instead of watching them."
Added teammate Chris Stewart: "He's really added a lot of composure to our [defense] core. This is one of the reasons why he wanted to come to us. He wanted to get into the playoffs and he believed in us. We wanted to show him that he made a good choice.
"I think it says tons. Anytime you get a compliment from an opposing player on another team who for sure has kind of a say in where he's going to go prior to the trade deadline is obviously a bonus. He must think we're a serious contender or he wouldn't have come on board."
For the first time in his NHL career, Bouwmeester, who finished with one goal and six assists in 14 games with the Blues [seven goals and 22 points in 47 total games], won't have to decide if he'll represent Canada at the IIHF World Championship. That's because he and the Blues will be preparing to face the Kings in a best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
Bouwmeester couldn't be more pleased with that notion, or ridding himself of the persistent reminder of never making the playoffs.
"It's exciting," Bouwmeester said. "It's something I've wanted and been looking forward to for a long time. It's just an opportunity. Really, when your season ends in April, you never get that opportunity to go for the Cup. That's what everyone wants when you play the game because you want to win.
"The only nice thing is you don't have to answer that question anymore. Other than that, every year, that's your goal. Number one, get in the playoffs and then go from there. It doesn't change, no matter who you are or where you are."