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At 41, Jagr just happy to be back in Cup Final

by Shawn P. Roarke

BOSTON -- While many of his teammates in the victorious dressing room donned the brand-new baseball hats proclaiming the Boston Bruins as Eastern Conference Champions, Jaromir Jagr wore a black-and-gold winter toque that listed each of Boston's previous Stanley Cup titles.

Jaromir Jagr
Jaromir Jagr
Right Wing - BOS
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 7
SOG: 45 | +/-: 1

Maybe Jagr, a 41-year-old who often makes self-deprecating jokes about his advanced age, had caught a chill after the Bruins hung on for a 1-0 victory Friday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. More likely, he wanted to remind himself -- and everyone else -- that the Bruins have not accomplished anything yet.

"To get the chance to play for a Cup is great," Jagr said.

The Bruins will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, starting with Game 1 at the United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

After waiting 21 years to return to the biggest stage Jagr's chosen profession can offer, having to wait a few more days isn't unbearable.

Jagr won the Cup back-to-back with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992, his first two NHL seasons, riding shotgun for Mario Lemieux. Ironically, Lemieux now owns the Pittsburgh team that Jagr and his Boston teammates thoroughly dismantled in one of the most dominating sweeps in recent Stanley Cup Playoff history.

"Last time I was in the Final was 20 years ago; that's a long time, so I don't really remember how we get there," Jagr said. "We had Mario Lemieux, who could kind of control the game by himself, and we were kind of supporting him when he wasn't perfect."

Though Jagr was peddling his humility act, a look at the history books proves his modesty is grossly misplaced.

In 1991, Jagr was in his first postseason and he played a supporting role -- he scored three goals and 13 points in 24 games. But when Pittsburgh repeated as champion a year later, he had 11 goals and a career-best 24 points in 21 playoff games.

At that point, Jagr was on top of the world -- he was the No. 2 guy on the NHL's No. 1 team. At age 20, he had been part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams, and the prospect of more championships was tantalizingly on the horizon.

"When you are younger, you know you are going to play for a long time," Jagr said.

Jagr has played for a long time. But he has never found the same postseason success. The Penguins were upset by the New York Islanders in the second round in 1993, ending their bid for a third consecutive title. He had two more third-round runs with the Penguins before he left the organization in 2001. Since then, the second round is as long as his spring has lasted in any given season. Between his back-to-back runs to the Cup at the start of his career and the run to the Final this season, Jagr played in 135 Stanley Cup Playoff games and found heartbreak at every turn.

After signing with the Dallas Stars last summer and being dealt to Boston at the NHL Trade Deadline, Jagr has conquered the vagaries of the postseason to get to the final hurdle. He hasn't forgotten how close he came to going home early again this spring. The images of blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round are fresh in his mind. Even more fresh is the three-goal deficit the Bruins faced in the third period of that Game 7 -- a deficit that was erased by one of the greatest comebacks in history.

"When you look back one month ago, we had a tough game against Toronto; we were down 4-1, 10 minutes to go," Jagr said. "If we wouldn't be lucky, I would be sitting home for a month. Since that game, I feel we are on a roll. Hopefully, we can play the same way because we are going to need it."

No matter what happens in the next couple of weeks, Jagr knows he is blessed to be on another Stanley Cup Final ride, even if it comes in a true support role this time.

"I don't play as much," Jagr said matter-of-factly, with no bitterness in his voice. He seems to be a man at peace with his role on the team. "There was a lot more pressure on me 20 years ago. Now I'm just enjoying it."

It's not clear if that has always been the case for Jagr. There were times in his tumultuous career when outsiders suggested that the love affair between Jagr and the game he was born to play had ended.

That was not the case Friday night -- not for the man at ease with wearing a pom-pomed toque in the middle of June as a reminder of what has already come for the franchise he now calls home and what lies ahead for a 41-year-old man in the dying light of his career.

"Now I appreciate every game I can play," Jagr said. "The more important the game is, it's better for me. The way I explain it, I feel like a 70-year-old guy, you know, trying to be alive and be [thankful] for every day he can live on this Earth.

"It's me and the hockey. I appreciate every day I can play."

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