- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- There was a point late in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals when Bruins veteran Mark Recchi got into the face of a Buffalo Sabres player in order to help boost the morale on Boston's bench.
The Bruins, trailing by a goal, were playing well, but couldn't put the equalizer past Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. Recchi, a veteran of 22 NHL seasons, has won two Stanley Cups (Pittsburgh in 1991 and Carolina in 2006), so when the 42-year-old steps onto the ice in the playoffs, teammates and opponents alike know exactly the type of game Recchi is going play.
"He still has that will to win and he wants to win," said Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who was born the same year Recchi made his NHL debut -- 1988. "That's why he's still playing. He's definitely not playing for the money. He's playing because he loves the game and he loves being with the boys and winning with the boys, so he's a guy, to this day, who does whatever he can to help contribute. As teammates we expect nothing less from him."
Recchi scored Boston's lone goal in Game 1, a power-play tally, and added an empty-net goal in the Bruins' 5-3 victory in Game 2. He's scored 52 goals and added 73 assists for 125 points in 153 postseason games during 14 trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The man knows how to win.
"It's his experience and how he leads with that experience," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "He's one of those guys who every day, whether it's practice or a game, he works hard and gives it everything he's got. It's actually contagious. It's hard for players not to want to follow his lead. He's been good. His experience around the dressing room has been real useful for us this year. We have a lot of young players and those players have grown just by his presence."
The Bruins needed a strong run down the stretch of the regular season to earn a playoff berth, and while goaltender Tuukka Rask was a major presence between the pipes, it was Recchi who challenged his teammates to play at their best.
"It's good for a young guy like me to learn from a guy like him," said Lucic. "He's been through everything throughout his career. He's a guy who you can definitely look up to. I'm happy to say I've been a teammate with him at the end of his career."
End of his career?
Don't tell Recchi that.
Sure, he knows how fortunate he's been to play for three decades in the NHL and he credits his ability to maintain a high level of conditioning and preparation. When talking about his longevity recently and his ability to stay healthy, Recchi knocked on the wood framing his locker stall.
"I've prided myself at being consistent over the years, and I wanted to prove to people and myself that I can still help," he said. "I never thought I would make my 30s. It's been fun. What else are you going to do? I love it and I'm enjoying it. It's fun being around the guys and it's fun being part of the process of getting here."
As he gained more experience during his impressive career, the NHL got bigger, faster and younger. In fact, during his second tour of duty in Pittsburgh, the combined age of Recchi's linemates (Sidney Crosby and Colby Armstrong) barely equaled his.
The game is changing, but Recchi has enjoyed watching the younger players, especially his Bruins teammates, mold into top NHL talent.
"Obviously, the kids who have great respect for the game come in and treat you well. I have a great respect for the kids who are coming up and are good kids," said Recchi. "They want to be good players and they want to be good people. It's fun being around those kids."
Lucic is one of those kids, but the 21-year-old can't even imagine playing 20 years from now.
"No, I don't think so," said Lucic. "I would have a tough time playing senior league at that age, never mind playing in the NHL."
Father Time isn't thinking about retirement. He's focusing on the Buffalo Sabres.
The Bruins shocked the Sabres by tying this first-round series at a game apiece and Boston has a chance to take the lead with a victory at home in Game 3 on Monday night. It will be Recchi's 154th career playoff game. He still remembers his first playoff game with the Penguins during their Cup run in 1991 and he's hoping his last one is still a ways away.
"Obviously the intensity level goes up another notch or two and you have to be prepared to do that," said Recchi. "You have to be prepared to get uncomfortable and you have to do things that make you uncomfortable and if you do that you're going to be successful. The teams that win Stanley Cups, that's what happens."
Recchi has made his point.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
Mark Recchi's winning experience is rubbing off on his Bruins teammates.