BOSTON -- It was a split-second in a game that contained 5,719 seconds of play filled with intense drama.
In a storyline so improbable Hollywood might not believe it, the moment in question -- which came deep in the second overtime, seconds before Patrice Bergeron played the hero again for the Boston Bruins -- involved Jaromir Jagr. Yes, the man who made his legend as a brash, young member of the Pittsburgh Penguins but is now likely on the final lap of his Hall of Fame career, far more gray in his beard and far slower on his skates.
But the desire to win, the desire to take one more drink from the Cup he first hoisted more than two decades ago as a member of the Penguins -- after beating the Bruins along the way both times -- has not flickered in the least with age. It still burns fiercely hot, even if it is more buried in the more mature personality Jagr puts on display these days.Want proof?
Look at the origins of the play that gave the Bruins a 2-1 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final and a 3-0 stranglehold on the best-of-7 series -- and moved Jagr one victory from a place in the Stanley Cup Final.
Pittsburgh defenseman Deryk Engelland pitched the puck out the defensive zone and Evgeni Malkin -- the Penguins' latest brash, young European star -- looked poised to claim it and head toward the attacking zone. But somehow, Jagr got his stick in there and came away with the puck, setting in motion a series of passes that will become a part of Bruins lore.
Jagr passed to Brad Marchand, who got separation from the Pittsburgh defense and waited until Bergeron got a step on Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh's primary shutdown defenseman. Marchand then feathered a perfect pass Bergeron redirected into the far corner of the net defended so ably all night by Tomas Vokoun.
Though everyone will talk about the latest clutch goal by Bergeron, who is entering Tom Brady territory with his postseason heroics, the Bruins were talking about a board battle won by a 41-year-old who had no interest in the dirty areas along the walls for the majority of his legendary career.
"He's pretty much a legend, he's a guy that's going to be in the Hall of Fame at some point, and he's doing the little thing right there just to fight for the puck, and you notice that as a teammate," Bergeron said. "It goes a long way, as I said, and we all need to do that."
Bergeron wasn't the only one who noticed; defenseman Andrew Ference did as well. Ference missed the Bruins' second-round series against the New York Rangers with an injury, but watched as Jagr played a great-but-different game than the one on which the Czech star made his reputation.
The winning play Wednesday was further validation of Jagr's transformation, Ference said.
"He's come a long way, he's changed his game a bit, obviously, not only as the years have gone on, but in coming to our team," Ference said. "I think that guys have a lot of respect about who he was in the past, but I think now we're seeing how hard he pushes himself to be better and how he's not too good to develop into what we need him to be."
On this Boston team, Jagr doesn't need to be a scorer. That mantle has been handed to another Czech, David Krejci, who scored the game's first goal Wednesday and leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with nine goals and 21 points. It is a role also occupied by Bergeron.
Jagr just needed to buy into Boston's vision of Jagr.
For the Bruins, Jagr just needs to be responsible when he is on the ice, eat some minutes while making a contribution now and again, and embrace the moments as they get bigger and more pressure-packed. It is for those reasons Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli acquired Jagr from the Dallas Stars two months ago.
Jagr has been a perfect fit.
"Jags is a future Hall of Famer who has come into our locker room and bought into our system, which is not always an easy thing to do, and he has done it and done a great job at that," forward Chris Kelly said.
There was no bigger moment or pressure-packed situation than the Game 3 that hung tensely in the balance for the 56 minutes and 27 seconds after Chris Kunitz tied it 1-1 in the second period. Yet Jagr got stronger and stronger as the game advanced.
While others wilted under the physical and mental burden being exacted by the circumstances, Jagr did what was needed. He was the most dangerous player throughout the overtime periods despite being 15 years older than many of the top players from either side in this series.
Fittingly, in the end, he was rewarded for all the under-the-radar effort he produced across his defining night with the Bruins.
"He made a couple of huge plays grounding it out along the wall," Ference said. "That's not going to make any of his highlight reels when he goes into the Hall of Fame, but those are huge plays to win hockey games for us."
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