BOSTON – No one’s itching for the Bruins-Tampa Bay Eastern Conference Final to start more than Mark Recchi.
After going through an intense practice with Boston at the TD Garden today, two days before the series is scheduled to finally start Saturday, Recchi reflected on what will be a total of seven days off between games for the Bruins.
“It’s been all right. Actually last night kind of sucked,” he said. “Yesterday was a long day. There was no hockey on. I love to watch it too, so I was … there were no games on last night; I was like a lost soul clicking around the TV. Yesterday was bad, but today was great because you knew it’s two days away now. You wake up and it’s exciting. You go out there, have a great practice.”
We have all grown accustomed to such youthful exuberance from the 43-year-old Recchi. It has translated to him scoring seven points (two goals) in 11 postseason games after 48-point regular season. And it has also helped him, as one of Boston’s spiritual leaders, keep his teammates focused when the chips were down or even when things were going extremely well. That’s how a team overcomes a 2-0 deficit heading on the road to Montreal and then completes a sweep of Philadelphia after stealing two victories away from home.
Once projected to be Recchi’s head coach for just a couple months after the pending unrestricted free agent was acquired at the trade deadline in 2009, Bruins bench boss Claude Julien has seen Recchi become a perennial catalyst for his clubs for parts of three seasons.
“When we did get him he was more or less classified as a role player,” said Julien. “But I think when he came in, and he scored quite a few goals when he first showed up to us, and was a real good player for us in the playoffs, a good leader. And if you guys remember that Carolina series where we didn’t know if he would play Game 6 or not and what he went through [battling a kidney stone], he just showed so much battle and such a great example ,and we felt real comfortable asking him to come back. And I think the feeling was mutual. He came back and gave us another real good season last year.
“He’s been good for us. We understand he’s not the youngest player in the league, but his experience and what he brings to the table day in and day out is something this team really needs, and even this year again, he’s been extremely good in the dressing room. The one thing you will never question about him is his work ethic and at this time of year those guys becomes extremely important.”
Recchi weeks ago made it known on local radio that this would definitely be his last season if the Bruins win the Stanley Cup. There’s telling where he’ll wind up should Boston come up short. Certainly helping the team reach the Cup semifinals for the first time in 19 years is an accomplishment worth having on ones resume as a final act.
Nonetheless, these Bruins aren’t satisfied just reaching these uncharted waters. And part of the team’s championship mentality is influenced by wanting to give Recchi a proper sendoff.
“I think everybody – I don’t think there’s been a lot of talk about it – but I think everybody is cognizant of it, that it’s there, and I want to play hard for him,” said center Rich Peverley. “He’s a true professional and one of the greatest players of all time. So I want to win it for him, but I want to win it for everyone in this room as well.”
For the Bruins to reach the Cup final for the first time since 1990, they’ll have to prevail in a third straight series against a team Recchi once played for. That irony isn’t lost on the future Hall-of-Famer.
“Thank god I haven’t played out West, so forget that point,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s been good. Obviously, I’ve played on a few teams. But to actually do that in one year, it’s really kind of funny. So, obviously Montreal I didn’t really have anybody that I played with anymore, and Philly there was only a few guys left. So in Tampa there’s still four, five guys that I’ve played with. So it’s obviously, we’re all friends but we all want to do the same thing. We all want to win.”
The Lightning team the Bruins will face is completely different than the one he left 27 months ago. Like most, he knows to credit first-year general manager Steve Yzerman and the new ownership group for restoring the Lightning to prominence just a couple years removed from bottoming out and earning the right to draft Steven Stamkos No. 1 overall.
This will be Recchi’s fifth conference final. He’s 2-2 in such series, with a Cup championship following both of his wins in this round. Every team, every situation is unique, but he says this time around has a similar feeling to his previous four trips this far.
“It’s exciting. It definitely has the same feel,” he said. “Even though it’s dragged on a little bit. Obviously the other series is still going on and there’s some excitement over there happening tonight. It’s always, when you get to this point, it’s always pretty neat.
“It’s a special time of year and you want to make the best of it.”
If the Bruins make the most of it, Recchi will be able to go out on top. And then he’ll really have a lot of time to click around on the TV, but he’ll do it with three Cup rings on his hand.