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Jagr isn't settling for the easy answer

by Dan Rosen

Jaromir Jagr has made what may very well be his final stand a memorable one. Watch Jaromir Jagr highlight video
NEW YORK – Since coming to New York, Jaromir Jagr has proven to be an existential thinker. His views on the game are as philosophical as his answers – which oftentimes can be clouded by a hysterical comedy routine – are thoughtful.

However, in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which could be the last of Jagr’s storied career, he’s taken his introspective nature to an altogether new level, almost the same way he’s taken his game to heights it hasn’t reached since the 2005-06 season.

Unlike so many others, Jagr never let the old win-one-at-a-time cliché pollute his answers when he was asked about the Rangers' 3-0 deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has been cliché-free this series, and as a result, quite insightful.

For example, the other night, after the Rangers shifted the series back to Pittsburgh with a 3-0 win in Game 4, Jagr was asked a rather innocuous question about what he thinks the Rangers’ chances are about returning to Madison Square Garden for a Game 6.

Jagr didn’t just give a quick sound-bite answer that most would have been OK with. He expounded. He talked about belief. He thought about his answer.

“That’s the No. 1 thing we have to do, we have to believe,” Jagr responded. “That’s where you start everything. If you don’t believe, you don’t have a chance. You have to think about it and you have to believe. That’s when anything is possible. But everything is in your head. When you start to believe, it’s already happening. Then you have to put the pieces together.”

A few questions down the line, Jagr was asked if any part of him takes a measure of pleasure in beating the Penguins, his former team, and sending the series back to Mellon Arena, where the fans loathe him.

Jagr chose a different route for his answer. It was inspiring.

“What matters to me is to play the playoff games,” Jagr said. “Of course you want to win the Cup, but what’s great about it is those games you are in for two months. That’s what makes the Cup special. The moments in the games, the fans and the up and downs in the series. That’s what you remember. You remember the moments – when you’re down, when you’re up, the moment when the series changed. That’s what you’re really going to remember in 10 years. Those are the moments you play for.”

Jagr has made what may very well be his final stand a memorable one. Even if the Rangers don’t come back in this series, Jagr’s greatness and penchant for making the moment his own no longer can be denied.

His 15 playoff points in nine games lead the NHL and are more than a fifth of the amount (71) he had in 82 regular-season games. Jagr had a goal, an assist and 10 shots in Game 3, a 5-3 loss. He scored twice, had an assist and four shots in Game 4.

“He’s a driven man,” Rangers coach Tom Renney concluded.

And yet, Jagr still won’t dispel the notion that he could be playing his last NHL games this spring. About the only thing Jagr won’t talk about is his future, be it re-signing with the Rangers, with another NHL team, playing somewhere in Russia, or nowhere at all.

The only way Jagr’s option in his current Rangers contract kicks in is if he wins the Conn Smythe Trophy. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

“Let’s talk about it after the series,” he said Thursday night with a smile.

Rangers fans certainly are pushing for their captain to return. Yes, the same fans who booed Jagr throughout the course of the season for what they perceived as a lack of motivation now see No. 68 perhaps is more motivated than ever.

They held signs at the Garden on Thursday night asking him to come back for one more season. They repeatedly chanted his name.

After Jagr scraped himself off the ice following his second-period goal and the immediate check to the head from Brooks Orpik, he skated to the bench amid arguably the loudest ovation anyone has gotten in the Garden this year.

“You want to make sure people remember him as the outstanding player he is, and he has been really good the last couple of weeks,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “Hopefully he can keep going and lead the team.”

Jagr may be 36 with 17 NHL seasons behind him, but his belief and motivation goes beyond age and experience.

After spending the entire regular season conserving his energy, he said he was ready to play again Friday night after winning Thursday’s game. He’s craving the chance to play back-to-back for Games 5 and 6, which would be Sunday and Monday.

He said he feels like he’s 25. He’s playing like it, too.

“I’m 250 (pounds) and I have a lot of energy,” Jagr said. “I know I’m going to be tired, but I know those guys I’m going to play against, they’re going to be more tired. That’s why I wouldn’t mind it. In the playoffs you don’t think about yourself much, but you have to believe you’re in better shape than the guys you are facing. That’s the whole key.”

But can it happen? Can Jagr will this series back to Madison Square Garden and, dare we say, help the Rangers win the whole darn thing after falling down 3-0?

He can think as long and as hard as he wants about that question, but he just doesn’t have the answer. Even still, we do know No. 68 is going to make it interesting no matter what happens Sunday in Pittsburgh.

“We’re going to play three games in four nights if we go that far,” Jagr said. “When somebody gets hot, it’s possible you can stay hot for four days. The next game is Game 7 again for us. They just played Game 4; we played Game 7. Mentally that helped them. Hopefully they’re going to be a little more nervous. That might help us.”

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