DENVER -- A Hall of Famer in waiting, Ray Bourque already is recognized as one of the NHL's best defensemen ever.
For those requiring further validation, consider this: The Colorado Avalanche are 17-3-1 since Bourque came over in a trade from Boston on March 6.
"He's really been a great addition for them," Detroit center Steve Yzerman said Friday.
Yzerman, whose Red Wings lost 2-0 to the Avalanche on Thursday night and will seek to square the Western Conference semifinal playoff series in Game 2 on Saturday, said the 39-year-old Bourque "gives them a defenseman who can play 30 minutes a game and play in all situations. Now they've got three pretty well-balanced pairings."
"It has also changed their power play," Yzerman said. "They always used Joe Sakic on the point. Now they play Sakic up front and (Sandis) Ozolinsh and Bourque on the blue line. It has made them even more effective because now they've got two big shots from the point and three good shots from up front. So their power play is really tough."
Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman, whose team was among those bidding for Bourque's services near the end the season, said the acquisition has given Colorado more swagger.
"I think they have more confidence," Bowman said. "That's natural. I know we did when we got (veteran defenseman Chris) Chelios (late in the 1999 season). They can play Bourque 25 to 30 minutes a game, and he's a guy who knows how to play."
Avalanche defenseman Aaron Miller has been awestruck by Bourque's play.
"I thought he was more of an offensive player," said Miller, referring to Bourque's 403 career goals -- the most of any NHL defenseman. "But his defense is unbelievable. I think his defense is the better part of his game, if that's possible. The amount of ice time he can play is just amazing. He's done a great job for us since the first day he got here, and he's getting better and better each game.
"He and Adam Foote have played great together from Day One. He's meant a ton to this team. You can see by our record how much better of a team we are when he's here. I know it was a tough change for him after 20 years in Boston, but he wants to win and he made a decision to try to get on a team that could do that.
"That's a guy who wants to win a Cup, and it's rubbing off on all of us. I think it would be something really special for a guy like Ray and Dave Andreychuk."
Andreychuk also was acquired in the trade with the Bruins, helping the Avalanche on both ends of the ice and improving their depth.
Colorado coach Bob Hartley said Friday there is no better defensive tandem in the league than Bourque and Foote.
"Just watch them play," Hartley said. "I think it's pretty safe to say that right now they're the top 1-2 in the league."
You won't get any arguments from the Red Wings, whose high-scoring forwards were smothered by Bourque, Foote and Co. on Thursday night.
"We just didn't have any room to skate," Bowman said.
Yzerman, who got off only two shots in the series opener, said Bourque and Foote were effective because "they're good on both ends of the rink. They're physically strong, they're good skaters and they move the puck very well."
"Their whole team made it difficult for us to generate anything. We didn't spend any time in the offensive zone. Once they got up 2-0, they pretty much played a trap and played a really strong defensive game," Yzerman said. "That's a greatly improved defensive team."
Bourque admits being slightly surprised by Colorado's defensive play.
"I came here knowing they were an explosive team and now knowing how well they could play on defense," he said. `But ever since I've been here, I've seen a commitment to defense. Our coaches stress keeping it simple and making sure we do our jobs without the puck. We've been playing really well and really disciplined on defense for quite a while now."
Bourque anticipates a stronger performance by Detroit on Saturday.
"They want to win a game here," he said. "They have to win a game here if they want to win the series, so we're going to expect their best tomorrow."
Colorado, which lost four of five regular-season games to Detroit, has won five straight playoff games over the Red Wings, outscoring them 21-7.
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