Mark Recchi, at 42 the oldest player in the NHL, is having too much fun schooling Buffalo's youngsters and winning Stanley Cup Playoff games to think of retiring. The League's leading active scorer has been the Bruins' driving force through the first three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Sabres.
Recchi had the assist on Patrice Bergeron's game-winning goal at 12:57 of the third period Monday at TD Garden that gave the Bruins a 2-1 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoff series. Rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask outdueled Ryan Miller again, stopping 32 shots.
Earlier in the series, Recchi scored Boston's only goal in 2-1 loss in Game 1 and the empty-netter that sealed the Bruins' 5-3 victory Saturday in Buffalo.
In what amounted to a long give-and-go, Recchi raced against Buffalo's Tim Kennedy, a Sabres' hero in Game 1 with an assist on Craig Rivet's game-winning goal, chasing Bergeron's dump-in behind the Buffalo goal. "The Wrecking Ball" won a test of strength against Kennedy, dumping him on his backside, then turned and fed Bergeron a perfect pass for a 21-foot snap shot past Miller.
"As soon as I turned, I saw 'Bergy' wide open in the slot and he's so good at finding that little area, I think it snuck through (Miller's) arm somehow. He's got a great shot and we'll take it," Recchi said.
"He doesn't surprise me," Bergeron said. "He's been doing that all year and last year when he came to us. He's been doing that his whole career. He's a great player and I'm happy to have a chance to play with him. And I'm learning every time I step on the ice with him."
It's a long series and Recchi was careful not to crow about the hit.
"He's a competitive guy and I just happened to get the better of him on that one," Recchi said of Kennedy. "I had pretty good position on him. Being able to keep control of the puck is really what made the play."
That broke a tie between two of the NHL's best defensive teams that had lasted for over 30 minutes of play.
"We felt really good about how we played in the second (period) and good about the third," Recchi said. "We felt if we just kept playing eventually we'd get rewarded. … It was a heck of a game. They played hard and they played well and we expect the same thing Wednesday night."
Recchi was asked if Miller, who made 27 saves, was frustrating the Bruins.
"We don't get frustrated," he said. "He's a good goalie. We know that. He's going to make saves and there's no sense getting frustrated. He's been a top goalie all year. We're just going to have to keep getting shots."
The Sabres scored first at 6:57 of the first period following a faceoff in the Bruins end that saw coach Claude Julien match the Sabres' checking line of Mike Grier, Raffi Torres and Paul Gaustad with his own checking line of Steve Begin, Dan Paille and Shawn Thornton. The Bruins cleared the zone and play concentrated on Buffalo's right side, Torres fighting Begin for the puck.
Begin sent the puck into the Buffalo end. Henrik Tallinder carried up and passed to Torres on the boards. His pass caught Grier in stride going into the Boston zone and Grier's hard wrist shot flew across Rask's body and into the upper-left hand corner of the net.
The Bruins tied it when Matt Hunwick sent an outlet pass to Vladimir Sobotka in the neutral zone for a 2-on-1 break. Sobotka stopped at the top of the right faceoff circle and passed to Dennis Wideman in the high slot. His shot through a screen fooled Miller, who made 27 saves, and found its way into the net with 4:43 left in the first.
Rask overtook Miller late in the season to post the League's lowest goals-against average, 1.97, and highest save percentage, .931, -- now he has a 2-1 edge over Miller in this series.
He was tight down the stretch after the game-winning goal, stopping one shot with his mask. Rask wanted to talk about Recchi after the game.
"He just won the battle and he saw Bergy coming full speed and made a great play there and 'Bergy' doesn’t usually miss those," Rask said. "He likes to bury the puck and he really hit it hard and got it through."
Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk drove Buffalo's leading scorer, Thomas Vanek, from Game 2 with a first-period check that left him limping on his left leg. Vanek didn't play in Game 3.
Boychuk delivered another big hit Monday when he flattened Matt Ellis as he tried to carry the puck out of the Buffalo zone in the second period. Ellis went to the dressing room but returned and skated a penalty-kill shift late in the period. He skated three shifts in the third period.
"I'm the villain," Boychuk said. "I saw a couple of guys backchecking so I just stepped up."
"That was a great hit and I thought it was clean, also," Bergeron said. "It kind of got us going in the second period."
The Sabres had the League's 10th-best power play during the regular season but failed on three man-advantages Monday and are now 0-for-12 in the series.
1 - 0 BUF
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 BOS
Holding the stick