Collier: Jagr's play keeps Rangers afloat

Jagr keeps Rangers afloat

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NEW YORK -- You can always spot Jaromir Jagr on the ice.

He's the big galoot with his sweater tucked into his shorts, his belt cinched up high like he's awaiting the 4 o'clock buffet somewhere in Boca Raton, but if it's not really the most chic look along Fashion Avenue, the vision of 68 skating with the puck on open ice remains as compelling a hockey image today as when his mullet flowed toward the top of his Penguins jersey.

Now there is one more Pittsburgh appointment to keep in the fabulous career that extended itself last night, because Jagr extended himself, pumping home two goals and adding an assist as the cliff-dwelling Rangers snapped the Penguins' seven-game postseason win streak, 3-0.

"Even if I'm tired, I just think, 'What about the guys on the other side, they've got to be tired too,' " Jagr said to a crush of hockey media in the minutes after dragging himself and the Rangers off the deck. "I got a lucky goal. It's all good. I enjoy this hockey in the playoffs, where every play means everything, where any little mistake can cost you."

So one more time on Pittsburgh ice, Sunday afternoon.

Two more times you might find a little uncomfortable, as that would mean a Game 7 the night of May 7 in a series the Penguins still have a choke hold on at 3-1, but there's simply no quantifying from the happy gaze in Jagr's blue eyes just how much he'd enjoy exactly that.

"Nobody's giving us a chance, but the chance is still there," he said. "We know we're in a tough situation. We got one more game and that was our goal, give ourselves a chance to get one more game."

Flowing freely down the left wing with just less than 13 minutes remaining in last night's second period, Jagr wristed the biscuit between the legs of Sergei Gonchar and past Marc-Andre Fleury for a 1-0 lead, the Rangers' first since jumping out 3-0 in Game 1 a week ago tonight.

Brooks Orpik put a big check on the big Czech's big head just as Jags pulled the trigger, sending him nose first to the ice for the duration of the raucous Garden goal celebration.

"I got hit in the head, that's all," Jagr said. "It was like a boxer who gets hit in the head."

Someone asked if he knew where he was at the moment.

"No idea," he laughed.

But for the balance of the second period, the Rangers seemed eager to make the Jagr goal stand up, to make this be about him, even to the extent that Dan Girardi pushed Evgeni Malkin from behind on a breakaway rather than have Jagr's goal rubbed out.

Awarded a penalty shot, Malkin responded with a weak flip into Henrik Lundqvist's glove after approaching him at the school zone rate of 15 mph for no apparent reason. Ryan Malone had a breakaway earlier and approached with superior purpose, but Lundqvist disappointed him, too, on a night when the Rangers' goalie bounced back from a miserable performance in Game 3.

Lundqvist, in fact, dragged a 3.92 goals-against average in the playoffs into Game 4, but he gained a certain comfort level as his teammates quickly established a more physical tempo, outhitting the Penguins, 15-6, in the first period.

New York peppered Fleury with 39 shots just two nights earlier, yet began Game 4 as if that would have to suffice for a while.

Jagr's wrister from the left faceoff circle, the result of a Gonchar turnover in his own zone, was the first shot New York put on net, and it didn't happen until nearly six minutes had elapsed.

The Penguins appeared to be getting contributions from both Staal brothers early, as New York's Mark Staal took two first-period penalties, neither of which the Penguins converted. They bothered with only one shot on the first and got none on the second, a two-minute period in which the Penguins failed to even set up a semblance of a power play, let alone that which had been the best in the NHL through most of two rounds of playoffs.

"Because we have nothing to lose it makes us a very dangerous team," Jagr said.

Of all the mistakes the Penguins made in losing for only the second time since April 1, underestimating New York's 36-year-old forward on the alleged edge of his retirement was not one of them.

"He's still an elite player and elite players are very tough to contain," coach Michel Therrien was saying before the puck being dropped. "I think our guys have been doing a fantastic job trying to contain him. All you can do is try to keep him to the outside as much as possible."

They won't be able to keep him outside the Arena on Sunday, and another Jagr performance like last night's could well put this series at issue again.


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.


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