BOSTON — The Bruins' version of Peter Pan, Mark Recchi refuses to grow up and just keeps adding to his career resume every game, making a strong case for the Hall of Fame and increasing his value as an unrestricted free agent come July 1.
With the Bruins and Sabres both clawing for every advantage, locked in a 1-1 deadlock late in regulation of Game 3 on Monday night, the 43-year-old Recchi chased down a dump-in in the Buffalo zone with 23-year-old Sabres forward Tim Kennedy. But it was Recchi who came away looking like the younger, stronger lad, shouldering Kennedy onto his backside, gaining control of the puck and feeding Patrice Bergeron in the slot for the game-winner with 7:03 left in regulation.
While many around the league are amazed at Recchi's feats and his constant victories in the battle against age, the Bruins have become accustomed to his clutch plays and endurance.
"He doesn't surprise me," Bergeron said. "He's been doing that all year and last year when he came to us. He's been doing that his whole career. He's a great player and I'm happy to have a chance to play with him. And I'm learning every time I step on the ice with him."
Of course, the classy Recchi wasn't about to take all the credit for the play and credited Bergeron, a player with whom he found instant chemistry when he arrived in Boston last season at the NHL trade deadline.
"As soon as I turned, I saw Bergy wide open in the slot and he's so good at finding that little area. I think it snuck through [Ryan Miller's] arm somehow. He's got a great shot and we'll take it," said Recchi, who now has two goals and an assist in the series and 126 playoff points in 154 playoff games.
Recchi's play to win the puck, though, was one that only a seasoned veteran tries to make. That veteran knows that if he can pull it off, chances are that he will help his team gain that scoring space that throughout Monday's game seemed so remote. After the game, Recchi described his thought process as the play developed.
"I knocked [Kennedy] off balance," Recchi pointed out. "He was trying to lean into me and I caught him just enough to knock him off balance, and I was fortunate to keep control of the puck, which is more what I was concerned about. I just needed to create a little bit of a gap so I could make a play. It gave me a little bit more time, but my play was to create a little bit of a gap and go from there."
In his postgame press conference, Bruins head coach Claude Julien talked about the will and desire of his elder statesman that made this type of play possible. As Julien suggested, most players have the necessary amount of will to make a play of this magnitude, but only the great ones seem to find it and use it at the key moments.
"I think it's in most of the individuals. It's a matter of wanting to do it," Julien said. "Mark Recchi is one of those guys that does that on a consistent basis and that's why he's still in the league."
As the regular season wound down, Recchi told the media that he plans on coming back for a 22nd season next fall. But he also indicated that he wasn't sure he would be back in Boston. There's no question that his teammates are hoping he will re-sign, especially because he doesn't seem to be getting old any time soon.
"You can't say [enough] about that guy," defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "He's one of our leaders, one of our key players, and having him in the dressing room really helps us. And you can't really tell the way he plays [that] he's 43. He plays like he's 25. Unbelievable, that guy."