NEW YORK (April 18, 1999)
-- It's over.
Wayne Gretzky's storied career ended 82 seconds into overtime as one of his heirs apparent, Jaromir Jagr, scored to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers in the regular-season finale for both teams.
"The Great One" retired after a 20-year career that included nine Hart Trophies as NHL most valuable player, 10 scoring titles and more goals, assists and points than anyone in league history.
"This is not a passing on, this is a moving on," Gretzky said. "I love this game, and it's going to kill me not to play. But I haven't wavered at all over the last couple of days."
Fittingly, his last NHL point was an assist as he set up Brian Leetch's power-play goal in the final minute of the second period that lifted the Rangers into a 1-1 tie. Gretzky finished with more assists (1,963) than anyone else had points.
"It's time," he said. "John (coach John Muckler) called a timeout with 30 seconds to go. He's got a daughter giving birth in Edmonton. He said, 'I just had a grandson today and you've got to get the winner.' Maybe when I was younger, I would have gotten the winner."
But Jagr, the league's leading scorer and the favorite to win this year's Hart Trophy, sent Pittsburgh into the playoffs on a high note. He got the puck in the low right faceoff circle, stickhandled to the net and slid the puck between goaltender Mike Richter's pads for his 44th goal.
"I wish I could have been Jordan, hitting that last shot to win a championship. But maybe it was fitting that the best young player in the game scored it," Gretzky said of Jagr. "They talk about passing the torch. Well, he caught it. He said, 'I didn't mean to do that.' That's what I used to say."
"I wasn't going to play this game because I wanted to rest for the playoffs," Jagr said. "But I was on the ice when Mario (Lemieux) retired and I wanted to be on the ice when Wayne retired. They are the two greatest players of all-time."
The day belonged to Gretzky, who remained on the ice long after the game while acknowledging the sellout crowd of 18,200. With flashbulbs popping, he was joined by his teammates before posing with his sons at center ice for a team photograph.
Gretzky was coaxed back for two curtain calls, picking up a bouquet of roses during a lap around the rink and alternately donning a New York Yankees cap and a red beret before leaving the rink for the final time.
"It really hit me, right before the end there before John called the timeout," he said. "I looked up and said, 'God, I got 30 seconds to go.'"
Gretzky received a standing ovation of nearly four minutes at Madison Square Garden before the game, then was feted in ceremonies that featured Lemieux and Mark Messier. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the capacity crowd that no one will ever wear No. 99 after Gretzky.
"You have always been and always will be 'The Great One,'" said Bettman. "There will never be another."
"It's a great honor," Gretzky said. "It's funny. In 1977, someone told me to wear that sweater. I never thought that no one would ever wear it again."
Later, pop star Bryan Adams changed a verse of the Canadian national anthem from "We stand on guard for thee" to "We're gonna miss you, Wayne Gretzky." John Amirante did the same to the American anthem, substituting "O'er the land of Wayne Gretzky" for "O'er the land of the free."
Gretzky also was given a new Mercedes, a gesture he described as "classy."
There was little checking as the Penguins tried to avoid injuries heading into the playoffs. They ended the regular season with just one win in their last 12 games (1-8-3) and will face New Jersey in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
New York missed the postseason for the second straight year with a 33-37-12 record.
Former Ranger Alexei Kovalev opened the scoring with 7:47 left in the second period, finishing a three-way passing play with Robert Lang and Alexei Morozov with a one-timer from the low right faceoff circle.
Gretzky got his last NHL point at 19:30 during New York's second power play. He passed from the outer edge of the right circle to Mathieu Schneider in the high slot. Schneider faked a shot and passed down low to Leetch for the easy tap-in.
Richter stopped 21 shots and extended Gretzky's career by just over minute with late stops on Kevin Hatcher and Jagr.
Tom Barrasso finished with 37 saves for Pittsburgh.