– With all the focus on graybeard goalies Tim Thomas
of Boston and Dwayne Roloson
of Tampa Bay, it is sometimes hard to remember that Bruins forward Mark Recchi
, at 43, is the oldest player in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That's because he often plays – and acts – much younger.
"You look at a guy like Rex and he is still having fun out there like a 19-year-old kid like me," Boston rookie Tyler Seguin
While it is easy to forget Recchi's advancing age – especially because he has been highly effective this postseason as a second-line forward -- there is no way to forget what he has done for this Bruins franchise in the past three seasons.
Obtained, ironically, from the Lightning around the trade deadline in 2009 as a rental, Recchi has become a fixture in the Bruins lineup, resisting any attempts to phase him out in favor of younger players.
Recchi's unique blend of still-solid skills and encyclopedic knowledge of what it takes to win in the postseason (see his two Stanley Cup rings) is simply irreplaceable now that Boston has succeeded in its quest to get past the second round for the first time in almost two decades.
"He's a great veteran player," says Tampa Bay's Adam Hall
, who played with Recchi during the 2008-09 season. "He's been through all the battles and brings so much experience to the table, but he is still a guy that you have to be aware of on the ice because he is dangerous offensively."
Only players and coaches that have been exposed to Recchi in large doses during pressure-packed situations seem to appreciate the specialness that the veteran brings to the rink on a daily basis – especially when winter turns to spring and thoughts turn to claiming hockey's grandest prize.
Recchi hasn't topped 20 goals or 50 points in either of his seasons with Boston, but coach Claude Julien
still considers him to be one of the B's most irreplaceable members.
"When we did get him, he was more or less classified as a role player," Julien said. "But I think when he came in, he scored quite a few goals when he first showed up to us and was a real good player for us in the playoffs, a good leader."
That's the thing with Recchi, his teammates say. Not only does he know how to lead, he knows how to do it in different ways, applying the best method to the situation at hand.
"He carries himself in a way in which you look up to him," rookie linemate Brad Marchand
told NHL.com. "He obviously has played for a long time, and he knows when to step up at the right times and when to say something. If there has to be something said to a certain guy and somebody isn't doing their part, he's the guy that will say something. That's not an easy thing to do on this team. He's one of those guys that everyone respects and sees that he is a natural-born leader."
For Julien, that moment came very early in his time with Recchi. That first season, the Bruins made the playoffs and swept aside Montreal in the first round before entering a back-and-forth battle with Carolina in Round 2. As that series dragged on, it was clear that Recchi was not 100 percent, yet he kept finding his way into the lineup.
But even Julien thought that streak would end in Game 6 against the Hurricanes. The kidney stones that Recchi was battling seemed to be winning and it looked hopeless for him to take part in that decisive game. Yet when the puck dropped, Recchi was dressed and ready to go – a clear message to his teammates about the price that must be paid to be a champion.
"What he went through, he just showed so much battle and such a great example," Julien said. "He's been good for us. We understand he's not the youngest player in the League, but his experience and what he brings to the table day in and day out is something this team really needs. Even this year again, he's been extremely good in the dressing room. The one thing you will never question about him is his work ethic and at this time of year those guys becomes extremely important."
Recchi certainly has rubbed off on Marchand, who is having a monster postseason. Marchand has been on the receiving end of several of Recchi's speeches this season – and a few more since the playoffs started.
"I always get nervous when I am talking to Rex just because of who he is," Marchand told NHL.com. "But any time you can get a guy like that talking to you about your game, you want to make sure you take every word in and make sure you learn from him.
"He's been through all the battles and brings so much experience to the table, but he is still a guy that you have to be aware of on the ice because he is dangerous offensively."
-- Lightning forward Adam Hall
"He's talked to me about a lot of different things. A lot about systems, where to be positionally and stuff like that. What I can try at certain points of the game -- playing with the score – if we are up by a goal, playing a certain way; if we are down by a goal playing a certain way. Then, being an agitator and stuff, he always lets me know the time and point to kind of play that role and when you just have to sit back and let it roll and take the shots and stuff. He's talked to me a lot and I've really grown from that."
Now, Recchi is playing that same mentor role with Seguin, who makes his playoff debut in Saturday's Game 1.
"I'll probably talk to him before he plays on Saturday," Recchi said Thursday. "But right now it's letting him enjoy practice, having a good feel out there, letting him have fun with it. You don't want to start talking to him too early. He's worked hard all year to get better and better, and he has. It's a great opportunity for him."
One Recchi knows about all too well after all his experiences.