Thursday marks the 15th anniversary of that Stanley Cup win, one like almost no other in NHL history. It was the only time Bourque raised the Cup, and the defenseman did it in the final game of his Hall of Fame career.
"There isn't a single June 9 that goes by that I don't think back to 2001," Bourque told NHL.com. "It's also the day I retired. Shjon Podein never misses it. He always calls at more or less the same time. He's one of the best teammates I played with, one of the biggest team guys I've ever known."
In the spring of 2001, hockey fans lost their sense of allegiance to their various teams and were holding their breath, hoping to see Bourque finally raise the Cup in his 22nd and final NHL season. Fifteen years later, Bourque still holds precious memories of the Avalanche's run to the Cup, particularly the time when it looked as if the New Jersey Devils might ruin the party.
"I was worried it was over when the Devils took a 3-2 lead in the series," Bourque said. "They were the defending champions and we were going to play Game 6 in New Jersey without Peter Forsberg [who was out with a ruptured spleen]."
Bourque, who scored the winning goal in Game 3, had his close friends and family in New Jersey for Game 6, just in case it turned out to be his final game.
"I was confident, but you never know," he said. "I was getting really emotional thinking it could have been my last practice, or my last team meal, my last time doing a lot of things."
The Boston Bruins traded Bourque to the Avalanche in March 2000 in the hopes of giving him one last chance at winning the Stanley Cup in his 21st season, all of them spent with the Bruins up until that trade. The Avalanche were eliminated from the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference Final by the Dallas Stars in seven games, and 2001 was going to be Bourque's final shot at it.
The day after the Avalanche were put on the brink of elimination with a 4-1 loss at home in Game 5, Bourque inspired his teammates with an emotional message during a team meeting.
"The guys were really down on themselves. You could hear a pin drop in the dressing room," said Bob Hartley, the Avalanche coach at the time. "Ray, with a tear in his eye, spoke briefly, basically to tell the guys he had one or two games left to play before retiring and all he wanted was to win the Cup. I really had nothing to add. The guys were pumped after that."
The inspired Avalanche took the ice in New Jersey and came away with a 4-0 win in Game 6 to tie the series and send it to Denver for Game 7.
"We owe one to [goaltender] Patrick Roy, who kept us in it with some big saves in the first 10 minutes of the game," Bourque said.
On the trip back to Colorado, Avalanche captain Joe Sakic was already dreaming up a plan to hand the Cup to Bourque.
"Joe was wound up, he was running all over the plane on our way back to Denver," Bourque said. "He was trying to plan how it would play out and he came to ask me what we should do with the Cup. All I said was, 'Let's play the game first and we'll see what happens after that.' "
But Sakic already knew he would pass the Cup to Bourque, and the Avalanche did everything they could to make sure that plan came to fruition by winning 3-1 in Game 7.
"Up three goals during the game, I had a hard time containing it," Bourque said. "I couldn't stop myself from thinking, 'This is crazy, we're about to win the Cup.' But then I tried to remember what the sports psychologists always told us and told myself, 'Stay in the moment, Ray.'
"Over the final few minutes, I had trouble breathing. I thought I was going to pass out. As soon as I would get back to the bench they would send me back out on the ice. They wanted me to be out there right to the end."
The scene that followed, when Sakic handed the Cup to Bourque, remains one of the greatest moments in Stanley Cup Playoff history.
"Joe Sakic made a lot of great passes over the course of his career, but never one as perfect as that," Hartley said. "It is one of the greatest passes in NHL history."
"Without a doubt the easiest pass I've ever made," Sakic said.
Sakic was in such a rush to give the trophy to Bourque when it was handed to him that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had to pull back on the Cup to remind Sakic they needed to take a photo together first.
"That just showed how classy Joe is," Bourque said.
When Bourque got the Cup, he raised it to the sky, an indelible image in the minds of those at Pepsi Center that night and the millions watching around the world.
"It was magical, everyone had tears in their eyes," Hartley said. "As the years have passed I get even more emotional when I see the pictures. It was one of the greatest moments of my career. I feel privileged that I had a chance to experience that."
"What I said when I got the Cup," Bourque added, "is not something I would be willing to repeat in public."
It was a cry that liberated Bourque of the pent-up frustration from all the playoff failures, the public pressure he felt to finally win a Cup to validate what would still have been a Hall of Fame career of 1,612 regular-season games and another 214 in the playoffs.
"It's hard as hell to win that trophy," said Bourque, who reached the Stanley Cup Final twice with the Bruins. "You have to win four playoff rounds while dealing with injuries and a ton of other factors."
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks know what Bourque is talking about. The two veteran forwards are one game away from elimination at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lead the Stanley Cup Final 3-1 and can clinch the series in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
Thornton and Marleau have played 1,367 and 1,411 regular-season games, respectively, over their tremendous careers, but have never been this close to feeling what Bourque felt 15 years ago.
"In my case, winning the Cup was all I had left to accomplish," Bourque said. "People always said, 'Ray Bourque had a great career, but he didn't win the Cup.' It burned me inside to hear that, just as much as it does when I hear it said about players like Brad Park or Jean Ratelle or Marcel Dionne or Thornton. Hockey is a team game; it isn't an individual sport.
"When we won, it was a huge relief for me. Not only that, but I finally knew how it really felt to be a champion."