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Old man Morrow bringing experience to young Lightning

NEW YORK -- It was at a team dinner on the eve of the playoffs last month where Brenden Morrow shared his story with his young Tampa Bay Lightning teammates.

"I just laid out how my career went, starting with a trip to the Stanley Cup final in my rookie year and how I’ve never been back since," Morrow told ESPN.com.

His message?

"Don’t just take it for granted. Have no regrets, play hard, enjoy the opportunity because you never know, especially in a salary-cap world, how often a team like this can be put together," Morrow told them.

It is just one of the reasons general manager Steve Yzerman sought Morrow out last summer, wanting to inject more experience in a lineup that’s as young as can be.

At 36, Morrow is half a decade older than his next-closest teammate, 31-year-old Valtteri Filppula; otherwise the rest of the roster is 30 or younger, including 15 players 25 and younger.

So yes, there was a need and a fit for Morrow to come onboard, bringing his hard-earned miles with him.

"The thing is about guys like Morrow, and, again, kind of a sneaky mid- or offseason signing, but that's what we were looking for -- is somebody that's been there before, that's been in those wars," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "He's played in a Cup final, but he's never won the Cup. You can see he's got a hunger in his eyes for it.

"But -- I don't know how to say this. Can you have 20 Gretzkys on your team? I guess you could, but how would that team play? Wayne Gretzky is arguably the greatest player to ever play in the game, but he had a complementary cast with him. Although it looked at times like he did everything himself, he did have a bunch of help. I look at guys like Morrow where you have a group of players that have a little speed, a little skill, well, who is going to be that guy that goes to those dirty areas? Who is going to be that physical guy? Who is going to be the guy in the locker room that, when things go a little bit awry, that can calm guys down? That's Brenden Morrow."

No doubt Morrow’s voice will be heard after Friday night’s 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers, with Game 5 on tap Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden.

Although most of the time, it’s by example. Morrow has always known just one way to play the game: all-out.

"One of the hardest-nose guys I've played with," former Dallas Stars teammate Mike Modano told ESPN.com. "Typical warrior guy. Was always concerned with the team’s success first. A very lead-by-example kind of guy."

Added Blues GM Doug Armstrong, who had Morrow in both Dallas and St. Louis: "Great team player, true warrior that plays through a ton. And he likes big games."

Morrow broke into the NHL in the 1999-00 season with the Stars, the season after they won the Cup. The team got all the way to the finals before losing to the New Jersey Devils. A decade and a half later, he’s still looking for a return ticket.

"As a rookie you go to the Stanley Cup finals and you feel like that’s going to happen every year," said Morrow. "At that point in my career, there were maybe five or six teams favored every year who were spending the money. So, you think it’s going to happen every year. Whether it’s na├»ve or what, you just think that’s the case. Then we enter the salary-cap [era], in Dallas we have our ownership issues, so you’re grinding away and grinding away and you never get near it again. So to be this close after it being that long, I know how tough it is. You try to let everyone else here know."

There was a time when Morrow couldn’t imagine wearing a different uniform. But the yearning to win a championship has him on his third different club in three seasons after stops with the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

"Five years ago, if we were sitting here talking, I don’t think I would have ever left Dallas," said Morrow. "That was home and kind of my team, and I didn’t envision playing anywhere else. But getting long in the tooth and trying to chase the Cup and having to move around, I’ve been re-energized a little bit. To get here again and have this run, it’s a great feeling; this is a heck of team."

Morrow didn’t quite know the Bolts were this good a year ago, although during his offseason workout sessions in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, he’d see that little Tyler Johnson kid skate circles around him and know something was up in Tampa.

More to the point, though, Morrow said it was two things that brought him to the Lightning: "First, my trust in Steve and his vision and the things we’ve done together in the past. That attracted me."

Morrow was picked by Yzerman to play on 2010 gold-medal-winning Canadian Olympic team.

"But it was also a conversation with Dougie Weight, who also spends his summers there [in Idaho]," added Morrow. "He said to me that this team was a lot better than people realized. He didn’t think it was a group that was going to take long. He knew how good they were right away. So it’s those two guys that led me here."

Once one of the pre-eminent power forwards in the NHL, seven times having scored 20 or more goals, including a pair of 30-plus goal seasons, the wear and tear of that bruising, take-no-prisoners style has taken its toll. Still, as shown in this series, he can make a difference by finishing his hits and wearing down opposing blueliners.

The key, however, has been Morrow gradually accepting how his role has changed.

"It wasn’t overnight," he smiled. "I think the mind works a certain way and the body works another way. To be in this league, you have to have a certain amount of pride and belief in yourself. It probably took me a little bit longer than I would have hoped to get to this point. There’s still times when you still think you can do more and the body says, 'Hold on a second. You can’t.'

"I know what my role is, I know what I can contribute. My game is playing physical, bringing energy, winning one-on-one battles and just doing simple things. And trying to stay out of the penalty box, which from time to time I’m guilty of crossing that line."

It means no longer having to carry a team like he once did.

"To say it’s a relief to not have to be that guy anymore, I don’t know, somebody asked me the other day if it’s easier to not have that pressure," Morrow said. "Sure, it’s easier, but we all enjoy having that pressure. You wouldn’t be in this league if you didn’t have that pride and that belief."

His one-year deal with the Lightning expires June 30. And he doesn’t sound ready to retire just yet.

"I think this is the healthiest I’ve felt in four or five years," he said. "Whether that’s because I’m playing only seven to eight minutes a night, whatever it is, it’s the healthiest I’ve felt. I know I’m only less than 10 games from 1,000, and that’s a pretty big accomplishment. So I’m going to finish out this year, hopefully on a high note, and we’ll see how the family feels and the body feels. But I’m still enjoying it. I’ll put the work in this summer to try and get another one."

He’s got three kids ages 12 and younger at home. So that’s a factor, too, in what he’s going to do. Meanwhile, he’s got 15 kids 25 and younger in the dressing room, some of whom like to tease old man Morrow.

"You get some grief about the grey beard and being the old guy," Morrow said with a smile. "But I take it as a compliment. I’ve been lucky enough to do this for 15 years and still playing the game I love."