Jagr is not one of those guys.
|Jaromir Jagr won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991-92, his first and second years in the NHL. |
He never toiled in the league, waiting for a lone shot at winning hockey’s ultimate prize.
Instead, he was a sensation from the moment he stepped onto the ice, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win back-to-back Cups in his first two seasons. As the understudy to Mario Lemieux, Jagr tore through the league with ease and quickly established himself as a superstar.
It has been nearly two decades since Jagr won that second Stanley Cup. He has achieved enough personal accolades to one day fill an exhibit at the Hall of Fame, but a third Cup has eluded him.
In time, Jagr learned the lesson countless veterans know too well – you’re never promised another shot at winning the Cup.
“You go through the season and you want to win it and then all of a sudden it’s over and you’re waiting for the next year again and again and again,” Jagr said. “Of course, that’s tough. That’s the hardest trophy to win. You have to be very good and very lucky.
“You have to beat one team four times. It’s not an accident. Some championships, you don’t have to be that good. You just have to be lucky that night and you have a chance to win it. In hockey, you have to win four times.”
It has been so long since Jagr won that many of his teammates only know the youthful, long-haired Jagr through video highlights. Brayden Schenn
, the youngest Flyer, had not even celebrated his first birthday when Jagr won his second championship in 1992.
At 40 years old, Jagr knows his opportunities to win a third Stanley Cup are limited. That pursuit is partly why he signed a one-year contract with the Flyers in July after spending three seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
“When you play your first two years and you win two Cups, you think you’re going to win a dozen, probably,” said Scott Hartnell
, an 11-year veteran himself. “I know he’s stated that to us a few times when we’ve struggled. This is probably one of his last years to get to the finals and try to win a Stanley Cup. He wants it bad. … If he’s playing like he can and leading us, we’re going to go as far as he can take us.”
Jagr has said throughout the season that he’s saving his best hockey for the playoffs. That moment is here. And it’s brought his career full-circle.
The Flyers open the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Penguins, who again showcase two of the world’s greatest players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Lemieux remains a Pittsburgh legend and, as a Penguins co-owner, a permanent fixture in the city’s sports scene.
Jagr had a chance to be somewhat of a prodigal son, but turned down an offer from the Penguins to sign with the Flyers. That, coupled with his request for a trade out of town in 2001, left him the target of boos in Pittsburgh.
Jagr said he won’t reflect on the connections to his past, but will focus on playing his best hockey. He added that many hockey experts and fans have labeled the Penguins as the best team in the league, handing the Flyers a “huge challenge” in the first round.
“I want to help this team to win,” Jagr said. “That’s my goal. I came here. I came back from Russia to have a chance to play in the playoffs and go far in the playoffs.
“We’re going to play the greatest team in the first round, but you cannot do anything about it. … You have to beat them if you want to go to the next round.”
The Flyers topped the Penguins four times this season, including two late-season games in which they overcame a 2-0 deficit. They are 5-1 all time at the CONSOL Engergy Center, with the lone loss coming on Saturday in a rather meaningless season finale.
Jagr has witnessed enough hockey to know those statistics are worth very little once the puck drops on Wednesday.
“It gives you just a little confidence (because) you know you can beat them,” he said. “On the other side, the playoffs is a totally different game. You start from 0-0. Let’s face it. If we were playing the first round against the New York Rangers – and we lost all of them against them – I’d still think we’d have a chance to win it. Sometimes, you can get lucky all year against one team, but the playoffs are totally different.”
It has been nearly four years since Jagr last suited up for a playoff game but his younger teammates certainly know his reputation. As the owner of 181 points in 169 playoff games, Jagr is as dependable as they come.
“Obviously, he’s been successful,” Claude Giroux
said. “He won a Cup and in the playoffs he’s always played pretty good. So hopefully we can have him on the good side.”
Though he battled various injuries during the season, Jagr solidified the Flyers’ top line, elevating the play of both Hartnell and Giroux. Jagr’s 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists) ranked third on the team, but the Flyers relied just as heavily on their rookies as their veterans. If the Flyers are to make a deep run, those rookies will have to carry their performances into the postseason.
Twenty years ago, Jagr was a budding superstar in Pittsburgh. Though he now comprehends how fortunate he was two win a pair of Cups, Jagr said there isn’t much he can say to pass along that understanding to the Flyers’ rookies.
“You have to go through that experience,” Jagr said. “You cannot buy it. You have to go through those games. On the other side, I think it’s going to be an advantage to us. The young guys, they’re fresh, they’re excited. They don’t think about mistakes. That’s the one huge thing about young guys – they just go and play. It doesn’t matter if it’s Game 7 or Game 1. They never had the pressure.
“And I was the same way. I never thought about mistakes. I never (thought, what if) I turn the puck over, what can happen? You just go.”
Jagr gets that chance on Wednesday.