Not long ago, Jaromir Jagr was the linchpin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the dynamic, young superstar helping to carry the Penguins to postseason glory. Powered by the brilliance of Jagr and Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early 1990s.
Today, Jagr is six years removed from the Penguins organization and is the elder statesman for the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh's second-round opponent this spring.
Young Sidney Crosby has picked up the mantle in the Steel City, taking the lead in the revival of the dormant franchise. Sid the Kid is the face of the Penguins as they continue to rise from the ashes and once again become an elite team. He has been joined by Russian Evgeni Malkin, reprising the one-two punch delivered by Jagr and Lemieux almost two decades ago.
You have to keep going and playing, but at the same time, you have to rest because it's so tough. It can be a big two months of playoffs. You can't keep going playing in seven-game series. If you can finish a series in four or five games, it's going to benefit you because you'll get some rest. Some injuries or bumps and bruises will happen, so you need to get better through that week. I think everybody will be healthy and ready to go for our next series. - Kris Letang, Penguins defensemanSo this meeting of the past and the present should be interesting on many levels.
Jagr, at 36, might be 16 years older than Crosby, but he still is just as dangerous. Jagr has eight points this postseason, the same total Crosby has produced this spring.
But the head-to-head battle between the two Pittsburgh icons is but one aspect of what will be a compelling series.
The goaltending battle also will be interesting. Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury was destined to be the next great goalie when he was drafted first overall in 2003, but struggled mightily before finding his way this season. New York's Henrik Lundqvist, meanwhile, has known nothing but success since joining the Rangers three years ago. Each has the ability to steal games.
Plus, there is a family battle to keep an eye on. Jordan Staal is a sophomore center for the Penguins. His brother Marc, a year older, is a rookie defenseman with the Rangers. The brothers grew up competing in mock Stanley Cup Playoff games on their backyard rink in Thunder Bay, Ont. This time it is for real, and the stakes – a trip to the Eastern Conference Final – are much higher.
Two years ago we weren't even supposed to be playing postseason hockey. Last year we embraced the whole idea of being a playoff team and going as deep as we could with the consequence of not pulling it off maybe not as dire. This year we really want to win. We really want to go deep, do all the right things. We really want it to just be a magical time. - Rangers head coach Tom RenneyMost importantly, though, there is no denying the dizzying star power on both sides of the equation in this series is compelling enough to make each game a must-see event. What more could we ask for?
Pittsburgh will win if – It plays to its strengths. The Penguins may be young, but they are loaded with talent at every key position. There's a reason they were the Atlantic Division champs and finished five points ahead of the Rangers. Pittsburgh needs to dictate the matchups and play its style, not get sucked into countering what the Rangers try to do. It's also advisable to keep Sean Avery as disinterested as possible.
New York will win if – It can counter Pittsburgh's scoring depth. The Rangers were so successful in the first round because they were able to shut down New Jersey's offensive threats. But in reality, New Jersey's offensive talent was centralized on one line. The Penguins have two legitimate scoring lines and a third line that can be dangerous, as well. Will the Rangers be able to handle that unrelenting attack-zone pressure?