March 18, 2006
|Tomas Kaberle had two assists in the Leafs lose Saturday night. |
NEW YORK (AP) -- Rangers rookie Petr Prucha hasn't mastered English yet, but he quickly found the word to describe Czech countryman Jaromir Jagr.
"Unbelievable,'' Prucha said as a big smile filled his face.
Jagr had a goal and three assists to hit the 100-point Saturday night and carried New York to a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers have won two straight after a season-worst, six-game losing streak and have a two-point lead over Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with 15 games remaining.
New York hasn't reached the post-season since 1997. Upset that many people picked the Rangers to finish last, Jagr has taken it upon himself to prove the naysayers wrong.
"I am not trying to look for any records,'' said Jagr, who has an NHL-best 46 goals along with 54 assists. "I wanted to help this team make the playoffs.
"That was just my goal, nothing else.''
Showing the form that won him five NHL scoring titles in Pittsburgh, Jagr toyed with the Maple Leafs. Henrik Lundqvist did the rest by making 33 saves for the 27th win of his rookie season. He outduelled Mikael Tellqvist, his backup on the gold-medal winning Swedish Olympic team.
Lundqvist lost his shutout bid with 8:04 left when Jason Allison cashed in on Toronto's fifth power play of the third period. Allison scored again with 1:41 remaining.
The Maple Leafs missed an opportunity to make up ground in their fight for the playoffs as Montreal and Atlanta, the two teams between Toronto and eighth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference, both lost Saturday night.
This night clearly belonged to Jagr.
"He was certainly on a mission,'' coach Tom Renney said. "He wanted this one badly, obviously, and he did the things that a leader has to do.''
He gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with his goal _ a blistering shot from the right circle that flew over Tellqvist's shoulder and found a tiny corner of the net during a first-period power play when Jagr was not facing that direction.
"That's the trick,'' said Jagr, who continues to claim he isn't a goal scorer.
"That's what he is telling me, too, in practice that he doesn't know where the puck is going,'' Lundqvist said. "He doesn't have to look when he shoots. He knows where the net is.''
Jagr then earned the primary assist on all three New York goals in the second when it turned into a rout.
He slid a pass from the right circle into the slot to Petr Sykora, who scored his 18th goal just 1:19 into the frame and less than a minute after Bryan McCabe's four-minute, high-sticking penalty.
Jagr then fired two shots from the middle of the Toronto zone that were turned aside, but the second came to Michael Nylander, who scored his 18th at 10:36.
That gave Jagr the lead back in the NHL scoring race as he moved one point ahead of San Jose's Joe Thornton. He widened the gap with No. 100 with 2:15 left in the second. He took a pass from Sandis Ozolinsh at the right post, pushed the puck across the crease to Prucha, who made it 4-0 with his 27th goal.
"He has a great pass, great vision, great shot, great everything,'' Prucha said.
By then fans were on their feet cheering, and chanting "M-V-P! M-V-P!'' Jagr has only won that award once.
But in one night, he made several dents in the Rangers' record book. He passed Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert, whose No. 7 hangs over the Madison Square Garden ice, for points in a season by a right winger; tied Vic Hadfield's mark of 23 power-play goals; and became the sixth Blueshirt to reach 100 points in a season _ the first since Mark Messier and Brian Leetch did it in 1991-92.
"It's the best we've seen here, maybe ever,'' Messier said. "He's dominating the game. He's been consistent, he's led the team, he's done everything you could ask for from a star player.''
Jagr reached the milestone for the fifth time but the first in four seasons. It was his third four-point game of the season and the 42nd of his career.
"I haven't looked at the stats the last four years because I wasn't up there,'' Jagr said. "That's why I didn't look at it.''
Jagr even played defence. When Lundqvist faced pressure in the second period, Jagr stood in a passing lane in front of the net and cleared the puck out of danger.
The rest of the time he was moving all over the ice, tapping his stick everywhere he went to call for the puck. Once they found him, Jagr made the Leafs pay.
Toronto defenceman Aki Berg tried to stay with him when the game was still scoreless. He forced Jagr to give the puck up, but Nylander got it back to him for the snap shot that beat a helpless Tellqvist, who made his third straight start in place of injured regular Ed Belfour (back).
"I thought we were the better team,'' captain Mats Sundin said of the Leafs, who sit five points out of a playoff spot. "We wound up again on the wrong side of the score sheet. It's frustrating.''
Sykora scored his second of the game into an empty net.
Notes: Gilbert had 97 points during the 1971-72 and 74-75 seasons. ... Toronto RW Jeff O'Neill returned after a three-game benching. C Matt Stajan sat out for the first time this season. ... Nylander, Prucha and Ozolinsh each had two assists. ... New York had four goals on 14 shots through two periods.