When the Bruins held their exit meetings and annual "break-up day" on May 18, four days after they suffered their heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Flyers, veteran leader Mark Recchi surprisingly declined to address the media.
Recchi, who routinely faced the music with the media through thick and thin during his last two seasons in Boston and throughout his career, met with Peter Chiarelli that day before heading out the door, beginning what has already been a long offseason of woulda's, coulda's and what if's for the future Hall of Famer and the Bruins.
Speaking by phone from his offseason home in Pittsburgh, the 42-year-old veteran told NESN.com that his emotions were simply too raw in the immediate aftermath of the devastating loss — one that he said was one of the toughest losses of his storied career. Despite leading the team with six goals in 13 playoff games, Recchi was having a tough time dealing with the reality of being part of just the fourth blown 3-0 series lead in the history of professional sports, and he simply wasn't in the mood to rehash the season with the media.
"Extremely hard. It was really hard … a tough pill to swallow," he said when asked why he didn't speak to reporters on May 18. "We had a great opportunity to go far and I think win the Stanley Cup. I think we had the talent and for whatever reason, we just couldn't get it together at the right time. I really think if we [beat Philadelphia and] move on to play Montreal — we've had success against them in the past and we know them well — we can beat them. Then, if you're in the finals, anything can happen.
"So I guess it's so frustrating because I know, at this point in your career, you don't get that close often, and this team is good enough and we didn't get it done," he added. "If I didn't believe that, then who cares? It's a great playoff run and you're happy with that. But we can't be happy with this because we're better than this, and unfortunately we just weren't better when it counted most."
Recchi acknowledged that every day he still tries to fathom how he and his teammates could be one overtime goal away from advancing to the Eastern Conference finals just one game before simply laying a stinker in Game 5. As he pointed out, David Krejci's broken wrist, suffered in Game 3, did turn out to be a major difference on the ice. Still, by Recchi's estimation, there wasn't always an urgent desire there to win, and that is a main reason the Bruins have been watching the Flyers move on to the Stanley Cup finals.
"You know, I think we felt great after Game 3," Recchi said. "We're in the driver's seat and all we need to do is keep playing hard. I actually thought Game 4 was one of our best games, but obviously [the Flyers] were fighting for their playoff lives, and they pull it out in overtime in a game that can go either way.
"But then Game 5 happens and man, I don't know what to say about that," he said of the 4-0 loss in Boston. "It was just bad on so many levels. I definitely think we missed Krejci, and that hurt for sure, but we stopped playing and we just didn't show up for whatever reason. Maybe it goes back to what I'm saying about playing hard every game, you know? I mean, you just can't have a game like that in the playoffs and not respond. You saw Chicago have a game like that [in its Game 1 loss to Vancouver], and I guess they responded, obviously. But while we played better in Game 6, we reverted back to Game 5 in the final two periods of a Game 7, and that just can't happen."
If there is one thing that Recchi has learned in his career, it is that winning in the playoffs doesn't happen simply because a team is more skilled. There needs to be a concerted and heartfelt effort every game. That's why he believes Chiarelli was absolutely correct when he said "the variance between the ups and downs were too much."
"You have to find that consistency night in and night out," Recchi said. "Whether you're a young guy or an older guy, some guys have it and some don't, I guess. But the ones that do need to dig deeper and find it when it counts … I think we're getting better at that but obviously not enough. So that's probably why Peter said that and I agree with him 100 percent."
Another frustrating aspect of the Bruins' unceremonious playoff exit was that the team had fought so hard, overcome so much adversity and proved so many people wrong to get to where they were, within one game of the conference finals.
"Let's face it," Recchi said, "not many people back in February or even mid-March were giving us a chance to make the playoffs. But we battled hard to make it and I thought really hard in that Buffalo series. We can be proud of not giving up and throwing the towel in for the season. But like I said, when it comes down to it, it's the ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup that matters, and we can't be complacent with anything else."
One of the decisions Chiarelli faced this offseason was whether to bring back tough guy Shawn Thornton, who was set to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Recchi would have done the same thing if he were GM, because in his eyes, you can never have enough "sandpaper" guys like Thornton.
"You look at a guy like Shawn Thornton and how hard he tries — not only every night but every shift," Recchi said. "Sure, he doesn't show up on the score sheet, but so what? I mean, you find another guy like that, that had 21 fights, can play 10 solid minutes and be a huge leader in the dressing room. That's the type of sandpaper guy maybe we need more of and probably every team but the Stanley Cup champion does, right? They're hard to come by, but we have that in him and I think other guys could play with that grit, too."
While there are flaws that need to be corrected, Recchi still sees a bright future for this current Bruins squad.
"There is a great core of young talent, and then you look at the second overall pick or really loads of picks we have in the draft, and the future is obviously bright," he said. "I really like the direction of the organization, and if we have a good draft and offseason, I think we can get back to where we were and go further."
But whether it's Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin that the Bruins take with that second pick overall (or possibly the first, if they swap picks with Edmonton as rumored), the players, regardless of skill, need that commitment to win.
"We've got a great young nucleus of skill here, good kids too, but, like anything, it's a process," he explained. "But I guess this shows we're not there yet with some of the young guys and even maybe some veterans. There needs to be that desire and heart every night in and night out. I mean, maybe some guys just don't have it, but I know the majority do, and again, that's why it's hard to swallow because I believe in this team. I believe in Claude [Julien] and I believe in Peter. I know we can reach that next level and I really believe if we had everyone on board for each game against Philly, we're still playing right now."
As far as if Recchi, an impending unrestricted free agent, will be on the team next season, trying to guide the core of young, skilled players to the next level, he made it clear to Chiarelli and Julien that he wants to play a third straight season in Black and Gold and hopefully lead them to their first Stanley Cup in what is now 38 years and counting.
"'Let's get this done,' is the way I put it, and Peter stressed to me that he wants to do that before July 1," Recchi explained. "I'm here, I won't be much money, I'm easy to reach and I'm ready to make this happen."
Part of what has Recchi itching to stay in Boston is his genuine belief in the team.
"We had a very good exit meeting, Peter and I, and I've made it clear to him, Claude and the team that I'd love to come back," Recchi said. "I love this city and I want to stay here and finish what we've started because I sincerely believe we can do it here. With a few more pieces and just a lot of dedication from everyone, this team has the goods."