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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) - The smile and sense of humor that Jaromir Jagr displayed all season was back Thursday and belied the dire straits he and the New York Rangers suddenly find themselves in.
Jagr was one of a handful of Rangers who took the practice ice the morning after another thorough beating by the New Jersey Devils left New York just one loss away from a quick playoff exit.
The star right winger, who made a surprise return from a serious shoulder injury Wednesday in the Rangers' 3-0 defeat, was putting on his gear when he invited reporters to come talk to him.
While wearing only his right skate, Jagr stood up and titled a bit.
"One arm, one leg," he joked.
But his injured left arm is no laughing matter. Jagr was hurt late in the opening loss and then sat out the Game 2 loss.
He brought the excited crowd at Madison Square Garden to its feet Wednesday when he stepped on the ice for the first Rangers home playoff game in nine years. That happiness was gone just 1:08 in when Jamie Langenbrunner finished off yet another 2-on-1 and gave New Jersey an insurmountable advantage.
If history is any indication, the Rangers' Hudson River rivals have another one as the Devils lead the best-of-seven series 3-0. Only two teams in NHL history have come back from such a hole to win.
New Jersey will get its first chance to knock out the Rangers on Saturday in New York. If the series is extended, Game 5 will be Sunday in the Meadowlands.
"I still believe and I'm always going to believe until it's done," Jagr said.
He believed enough in miracles to get back on the ice with the help of pain killers. Jagr hadn't missed a game all season until Game 2 and was very doubtful until shortly before the puck dropped Wednesday.
He didn't look anything like the player who posted team records of 54 goals and 123 points. Jagr recorded only one first-period shot.
His shoulder was no worse for wear on Thursday, and Jagr skated for about 10 minutes while most of his teammates took the day off.
"I've got two more days to get better," Jagr said. "The last game ... I didn't know how it was going to hurt. I have the experience to play with it. That is huge.
"The good thing is it didn't get any worse. I've got nothing to lose, the way I look at it. We're down three-nothing. If we lose, I've got four months to get it better. That's plenty of time."
That is part of the message coach Tom Renney tried to impart during a meeting Thursday. When you're facing elimination, in the throes of a devastating eight-game losing streak that allowed the Atlantic Division title to slip away, and taking on a Devils club that has won 14 straight games, the time is not for Xs and Os.
Renney prides himself in his undying optimism, and does so because he bills it as heartfelt. But the Rangers haven't held a game lead in 17 periods, dating to an April 13 loss at Pittsburgh.
"I'm positive for a reason. We have had a pretty good season," Renney said of a Rangers team picked by some to finish last in the NHL. "We've not had a good few weeks here and we're not going to pretend our way through that.
"We have a terrific challenge in front of us. ... I know there is not a single guy who wants to go home early."
Expect Jagr to be back on Saturday, along with injured defenseman Darius Kasparaitis - who has missed two games - and rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has struggled to get his mental toughness back since returning from a late-season hip injury.
The constant odd-man rushes against haven't helped.
"Right now everybody is focused on doing everything it takes to get a win on Saturday," he said. "If we get this win, a lot of things can happen. We can create so much energy."
Goalie Martin Brodeur and the Devils have other ideas. He is a big reason why the Devils have a 13-2 scoring margin in the series.
Even a healthy Jagr might not have helped that much.
Brodeur has four wins over New York during each team's current streaks and is looking for one more in his NHL-record 137th straight playoff appearance. The three-time Stanley Cup-winning Devils, who didn't practice Thursday, lost their three previous series matchups with the Rangers.
"We've been in this situation how many times and we know that the fourth win is the toughest," New Jersey forward Patrik Elias said.
|Jamie Langenbrunner (2) Slapshot - ASST: Patrik Elias (5), Brian Rafalski (2)|
1 - 0 NJD
|Patrik Elias (3) Wrist shot - ASST: Jamie Langenbrunner (5), David Hale (1)|
2 - 0 NJD
|Zach Parise (1) Tip-in - ASST: Brian Gionta (4), Scott Gomez (3)|
3 - 0 NJD
|David Hale Tripping|
|Paul Martin Hooking|
|Sandis Ozolinsh Hooking|
|Erik Rasmussen Interference against Ryan Hollweg|
|Marcel Hossa Slashing against Brad Lukowich|