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Old reliable

At 41, Bruins' Recchi can still be counted upon

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By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 16, 2009
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WILMINGTON - The play looked harmless enough.

On Feb. 22, halfway through the second period of a Bruins-Lightning game, Tampa Bay defenseman Josef Melichar flung a pass into the slot from the left wall. Dennis Wideman was fronting forward Matt Pettinger. Zdeno Chara was supporting Wideman and manning the front of the net.

Seemingly out of nowhere, an unmarked stick poked out, got a piece of Melichar's pass, and redirected it past Bruins goalie Manny Fernandez.

"Right in front of the net, poom," Chara recalled. "He just tipped it."

Mark Recchi had struck again. Recchi had slipped around Chara - he gives up 11 inches and 60 pounds to the Boston captain - spotted a seam in the defense, and planted his Bauer just right to tip Melichar's pass.

When asked about the play, Wideman couldn't remember it, but acknowledged it must have been a signature Recchi goal.

"Sounds like something he would do," said Wideman.

The plan: Marco Sturm, one of three rotating alternate captains (P.J. Axelsson and Andrew Ference being the others, with Patrice Bergeron always wearing the "A"), would be one of the Bruins' top two left wings. With his speed and grit, Sturm could be a go-to scorer, a lefthanded shot on the top power-play unit, and possibly approach the 40-goal mark, as te am vice president Cam Neely predicted before the season.

The reality: Sturm, after tearing the meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Dec. 18, would be lost for the season.

The Bruins had some insurance because Blake Wheeler had made the roster out of training camp and given his club a scoring threat on the left wing. For a good stretch, Milan Lucic teamed with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel on the No. 1 line to provide room-clearing muscle for his skilled linemates.

But as the trade deadline approached, general manager Peter Chiarelli made it clear he wanted a lefthanded scoring threat who could energize the power play. For all his versatility, Axelsson wasn't the desired offensive presence as the net-front lefty on the top power-play unit.

So at the deadline, Chiarelli plucked the 41-year-old Recchi off the Lightning roster (he also swiped a 2010 second-round pick) for Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums, two youngsters who had been surpassed on the organizational depth chart. Despite his age, Recchi had a pedigree of scoring. Recchi wasn't afraid to drive to the net and set up shop in the danger areas. The legs were still fresh enough for him to keep up. And perhaps most important, Recchi owned a pair of Stanley Cup rings (1991 with Pittsburgh, 2006 with Carolina), giving him instant credibility with his new teammates.

"I can't state how important it is," said Chiarelli, who also has acquired Cup winners Aaron Ward and Stephane Yelle during his time in Boston. "These guys have that experience that's so significant in the playoffs. That's really a large reason why we brought these players in: for their play and for their experience. We expect them to continue to contribute in that area, like they have all year."

A sterling reputation
His running mates have included some of the greatest names in modern hockey: Mario Lemieux. Jaromir Jagr. Eric Lindros. Ron Francis. Joe Mullen. Recchi's numbers are right up there among them.

Recchi has the 14th-most points in NHL history. He has 545 career goals, one more than some guy named Maurice Richard. He has appeared in 1,490 games, which also ranks 14th all time.

"Yes. Oh, yes. I knew it," said Chara, when asked if he knew the breadth of Recchi's excellence. "Everybody knows he is an older guy. But it has nothing to do with age. He loves the game. He loves to compete. You can see the way he plays every game hard. He doesn't give up.

"I remember him playing with Eric Lindros with the Flyers. He wasn't the biggest guy like everybody else was on the Flyers. But he made it up. With his disadvantage of size, he made it up with his heart, hard work, and performance. The Flyers had all the big guys, but that's why Mark Recchi was there. That's why. He always plays with a lot of heart. He's a small guy [5 feet 10 inches]. We all know that. But he plays like a big guy."

Even as a junior player in his hometown of Kamloops, British Columbia (his last year of juniors took place before Lucic was born), Recchi recognized his limitations. He wasn't the biggest player. He didn't have breakaway speed. Recchi knew that if he wanted to score, he had to be willing to crash the net and accept the beatings.

"If you want to score goals, you've got to go there," Recchi said. "I'm not a perimeter scorer. Some guys are great at scoring from outside. I've got to get there and I've got to do those things. I've always been a guy who's had to go to the net."

In 1990-91, when he won his first Cup, Recchi potted 40 goals for the first time. Two years later, Recchi pumped home 53 goals for the Flyers. In 2005-06, after he was traded from Pittsburgh to Carolina, Recchi scored 16 points in 25 postseason games to nab his second Cup.

But Recchi hasn't had much luck the last two years. In 2007-08, Recchi started the season with the Penguins, who would advance to the Cup finals. But Recchi was waived by Pittsburgh and claimed by Atlanta Dec. 8, 2007. The Thrashers missed the playoffs last season, and this season, the Lightning were going nowhere except toward the bottom of the conference.

"It really [stinks] when you don't get an opportunity to play in the playoffs," Recchi said. "The atmosphere and the energy is amazing. It's an exciting time. When you're packing up in April, I've got some good friends in Tampa that are packing up right now. It [stinks] for them. If you're a competitive guy, you're pretty down about stuff like that."

Bolt of energy
Since his arrival in Boston, the ex-Lightning forward has found his home on the No. 2 line alongside Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew. Most recently, Recchi has been the net-front presence on the top power-play unit.

In last Thursday's 5-4 overtime win over Montreal, Recchi performed the two things that are most critical to his game: setting up in front and driving to the net.

In the second period, Recchi tipped a Chara one-timer past goalie Carey Price for a power-play goal. In overtime, after Bergeron picked Maxim Lapierre's pocket, Recchi hustled to the far post to tip the center's pass home for the winning goal.

Recchi's presence (16 points in 18 games with the Bruins) has brought even more punch to a loaded offense. He's shown no fear of driving to the net. He's played responsible two-way hockey. He's potted four power-play goals, allowing Julien to take Axelsson off the man-advantage and use him as a penalty killer.

Recchi has been especially effective in front of the net, where his experience has made him savvy in the slot. Like a quarterback with uncanny pocket presence, Recchi has been able to sense openings and pressure, positioning his stick just so or shifting his body to shake his defenders.

"I think the smartest thing he does is position the stick where the defensemen can't get it," said Ward, also a teammate during the 2006 Carolina Cup run. "You might be able to get a piece of his body, but you're not going to be able to get a piece of his stick. If you're a defenseman, you literally have to hold him. If he puts his stick down, I have to get out of my position to get in there. And that opens up the lane, so you're moving out of position."

Recchi could be calling it quits after this season. When he was traded to the Bruins, Recchi thought about winning the Cup, bringing it to Boston, then retiring.

"This is what we play for," Recchi said. "We play all year to get here."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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