NHL.com is looking ahead to the Stanley Cup Playoffs by having former players discuss their favorite postseason game. Today, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach and Hockey Hall of Fame forward Mark Recchi recalls a 5-3 victory in Game 6 of the Wales Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins at Civic Arena on May 11, 1991.
Mark Recchi played in 189 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during his 22-season NHL career. But it's No. 18 that stands out, the game that clinched his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The moments come back immediately, even though it's been nearly 30 years. In Game 6 of the 1991 Wales Conference Finals, the Penguins and Bruins were tied 3-3 in the third period until Recchi scored the game-winning goal with 4:20 remaining.
The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup in six games against the Minnesota North Stars, the first of three NHL championships Recchi won (2006 with Carolina Hurricanes, 2011 with the Bruins).
"I know there's a lot of [games to choose from]," Recchi said. "But I was young , we're getting to the Stanley Cup Final, first time for the Pittsburgh Penguins, everyone, for a lot of us, except for [Paul] Coffey, so it was a pretty special moment for us at that time."
After the Bruins won the first two games of the series, the Penguins came back to win the next three to set up Game 6.
"We knew this was an opportunity, we had to grab it, and we didn't want to go back to Boston," Recchi said. "You could tell the guys were ready to do whatever it took."
Recchi recalled that the Bruins went to a man-on-man defensive scheme in the game, surprising the Penguins. It took them time to adjust, and the Bruins went up 2-0 in the second period.
"There was a lot of emotion -- the Ulf Samuelsson-Cam Neely thing that happened -- there were just so many emotions," Recchi said, referring to the hit on Neely by Samuelsson in Game 3. "When they changed to the man-on-man, once we figured it out, with our talent we were able to expose that because we had so much talent."
The Penguins responded with two goals in the second, on the power play by Larry Murphy at 11:45 and by Phil Bourque at 17:17. Pittsburgh went ahead 3-2 at 10:08 of the third on a goal by Gordie Roberts, assisted by Recchi. Don Sweeney tied it 3-3 for Boston at 12:13.
That set it up for Recchi to score the eighth of his 61 NHL playoff goals. Mario Lemieux scored into an empty net at 19:32 for the 5-3 final.
"Gordie Roberts made a heck of a play, and we caught them on a line change," Recchi said of his goal. "It kind of surprised them, and he just threw it off the boards, and I was able to come down the wing. I like to shoot on my off foot coming down the off wing, and I was able to get it by (goalie) Andy Moog.
"Right then, you just knew that was it. We had that feeling that was going to be the game, we were going to hold on to this thing, and just the emotions with all the guys, trying to keep it composed at the same time."
It was a marker for Recchi that he had made it, that he could be the type of player who helped a team win at the most important moments.
"To be that young in my career and to be able to get us to the Stanley Cup Final, it was just a special goal," Recchi said. "You want to be a playoff performer. You want to be somebody that your team can count on, regular season and playoffs. It just gives you a good feeling when you can really help your team. Obviously, a great feeling."
Recchi said it wasn't an easy choice for his favorite playoff game. There was Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final with the Bruins, a game he knew was going to be his final one in the NHL, regardless of what happened.
But Game 6 of the conference final in 1991 got the nod. It's something that has grown in his mind since it happened. He was in his second full season in the NHL then. Now he's 52 and has been retired for nine years.
"Today I appreciate everything much more than you do [at the time]," Recchi said. "I still appreciated it. But when you look back at games -- I was able to watch a bunch of clips -- you see the goals, you just kind of get the chills again."