- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- After the Boston Bruins became infamous for their implosion during the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, assistant captain Mark Recchi sat at his locker stall, dejected that the season -- and quite possibly his career -- was over.
The Bruins had surrendered a 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals and eventually lost with a devastating defeat in Game 7 at TD Garden. At the time, Recchi didn't know what to make of the situation.
Almost a year later, the 42-year-old veteran and future Hall of Famer knew exactly what his team needed. So he pulled something so inconceivable that the entire hockey world was stunned, calling out the Montreal Canadiens, one of his former teams, for the way they handled the Max Pacioretty incident that involved Zdeno Chara.
After Boston's crushing 7-0 victory over the Canadiens on Thursday night at TD Garden, Recchi admitted he made those comments to take the heat and focus off Chara.
Pacioretty suffered a non-displaced fracture of the fourth vertebrae and a severe concussion when his head hit the partition between the benches in the waning seconds of the second period after a Chara hit in a March 8 game at the Bell Centre. Chara was not suspended for the play, and since then, he has taken major abuse from the Canadiens, their fans and even Montreal's police department.
Recchi's redirect did not surprise his teammates, but leadership qualities like that go a long way for the players in the room.
"Everybody has each other's backs in here, and we know that," Recchi said. "There's no doubt in this room that anybody will do anything for any one of these players in this dressing room. That's why we're in first place in our division. We believe in each other and we trust each other."
When a room is that connected, especially with the Stanley Cup playoffs on the horizon, it has the potential to lead to great things.
"I hope so; that's what the goal is," Recchi said. "It's been a long process for us. It started in training camp, in Vermont [during a team weekend], in Prague [to start the regular season], and 73 games later, we're still trying to build that process. We want to now build some momentum from these last two wins and keep this up."
Recchi decided to re-sign with the Bruins in the offseason because he believes this team has what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. For this team to win the Stanley Cup, it needs players like Recchi.
"He's been around so long; he has seen a lot, heard a lot over the course of his career, and you certainly pick up things along the way," Bruins president Cam Neely said after Thursday's victory.
"One of the main reasons we got him a few years ago was because of his veteran presence within the locker room. Aside from what we knew he could do on the ice -- what he was going to provide to our locker room, that leadership quality and that experience because he's been around for so long."
At times this season, it appeared Recchi had lost a step, making some wonder what he was contributing on the ice. But after Thursday's game, he now has 13 goals and 33 assists for 46 points in 73 games this season. He also has a plus-15 rating.
Those stats don't even matter, because what he brings off the ice is so much more important for this team.
"That's Rex," Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said. "I'm blessed to be his teammate and also his linemate. I'm learning so much from him, not only on the ice, but off the ice he's been unbelievable and a huge influence on me. I'm just happy to be with him."
On the ice, Shawn Thornton is the guy who makes his living by dropping his gloves and standing up for his teammates. He has the facial battle scars to prove it. He also knows how important team chemistry is to produce a winning product, and Recchi is atop that list.
"As far as a team guy, we've got a lot of them in here, and [Recchi's] right at the top of the order," Thornton said. "He's been in this league for 22 years. He's our assistant captain. He's our leader. He comes to work every single day and he leads by example. When he needs to do that other stuff, he steps up and he's a great teammate. We're fortunate to have him as a teammate."
As much as the media wanted to focus on Recchi for his comments over the past couple of days, the veteran made sure to point out what the team did and how important it was to play a game like the Bruins did against the Canadiens.
Recchi protected his teammates, but more importantly, the Bruins protected their lead in the Northeast Division over Montreal -- especially with the possibility of these teams meeting in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"We showed what we're capable of as a team against them," Recchi said. "Playoffs, it's a different story. If we end up playing them, it all starts over. They have a very good team. They're fast, skilled, but we've got to play our game and we know that."
The Bruins beat the Canadiens with finesse. They beat Montreal physically. More importantly, the Bruins now have beaten their division rival two out of the past three games, and this one could set the tone for the postseason.
"We want to keep our momentum right now, and it's important we keep it," Recchi said.
With a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday and the pounding the Bruins gave Montreal on Thursday night, Boston's confidence is back where it needs to be to sustain this kind of success in the remaining nine games of the regular season.
As Neely was walking out of the locker room Thursday night, not only did he appreciate Recchi's leadership skills, but he was more impressed with the way the team played as a unit for 60 minutes.
"The last five periods, we've played the way we're capable of playing when we put the effort in and concentrate on things we have to do to play well," Neely said. "Everybody knew there was going to be a lot of focus on this game, and I'm thrilled with the way our guys just focused on what we had to do to play well. We came out really strong."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.