- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Jaromir Jagr has no goals and seven assists in 16 playoff games for the Boston Bruins and in 27 total games since being acquired from the Dallas Stars just prior to the trade deadline, he’s lit the lamp just twice and has 14 helpers.
Though Jagr naturally would like more goals, the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer has been doing plenty of little things to help the Bruins win and earn the praise of his coach and teammates. Jagr has adapted his game to the Bruins' system and adopted a defense-first approach that has him in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1992.
“Obviously the first couple of days [after Jagr was traded to Boston], guys were in awe of him because you've seen all the highlights and you've seen what he's capable of through his career,” said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who was Jagr’s teammate in Pittsburgh from 1999-2001. "But then as time passes, the way that he works, tries to perfect himself and tries to learn and always better himself, I think guys respect that.
“And not only that, he's not too good to not buy into what we're trying to do or make plays that don't have a chance of getting on his highlight reel. When he's inducted into the Hall of Fame, those plays [in Game 4 against Pittsburgh] and the last game aren't going to make it on the highlights, but they got us wins. He's doing the little things that it takes this time of year to help his linemates and put us over the top.”
One of those little things helped the Bruins win an epic double-overtime game with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. Jagr, who many times during the playoffs has done skating drills with a weighted vest and weighted skates on the TD Garden ice long after a game has ended, was out on the ice for his 35th shift of Game 3 and found himself in the neutral zone battling with 26-year-old Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin for the puck.
Malkin stripped the puck from Jagr, but the wily veteran didn’t give up on the play, stealing the puck back from Malkin and feeding it up ice to linemate Brad Marchand, who then fed Patrice Bergeron in front for the winner and a 3-0 series lead. Jagr got the secondary assist on the play, but it was the no-quit attitude and hard work that had his teammates raving after the win.
“I think he's got that experience to always be at the right place on the ice, and on that play it's just a perfect example that he's buying in and he wants to help in any way he can,” Bergeron said after the game. “And that play right there, we don't get a goal if he doesn't make that play.
“I think it just explains that everyone is buying in, everyone is doing everything in order to get the success and to get the wins, and it doesn't matter what it is and who it is, and Jags is a perfect example. He's pretty much a legend, he's a guy that's going to be in the Hall of Fame at some point, and he's doing the little thing right there just to fight for the puck. You notice that as a teammate, and it goes a long way, as I said, and we all need to do that.”
Coach Claude Julien was just as grateful for Jagr’s approach since becoming a member of the Bruins. Julien has done a masterful job of getting his young core to buy into his system, but he admitted after Game 3 that asking the likes of Jagr, who has prided himself on his offensive skills and made a career being one of the best finesse forwards in NHL history, seemed like a tall task. But Jagr made the transition easy, and the Bruins' bench boss couldn’t be more grateful.
“There hasn't been a big difference as far as what he can bring because once he gets in the offensive zone, he's still the same player,” Julien said. “I think it's more the defensive side of his game. He's coming back and doing what he needs to do there to help us out defensively.
“That's a credit to him. For what he is, for how long he's played, for a guy to do that is pretty amazing. Right now he's happy to be part of a team that's going in the right direction. He's bought into that. I honestly think the credit goes to him. I haven't had to twist his arm. I haven't had to do anything. I just felt that was the best way for him to help our team.”
Jagr’s effort and transformed game haven’t gone unnoticed by his former teammates either. Ex-Bruin Mark Recchi, another future Hall of Famer, played in Pittsburgh for Jagr’s rookie season in 1990-91. Recchi and Jagr both raised their first Stanley Cup that season, helping the Penguins beat the Bruins in the Wales Conference finals and the Minnesota North Stars for the Cup. Recchi ended his storied career winning his third Stanley Cup, as a member of the Bruins in 2011, and can relate to what his former teammate his going through as he prepares to play for the Cup in the twilight of his career.
“I’m sure it’s emotional and exciting for him,” Recchi said recently. “When you’re in the playoffs and you go this deep, you get that hunger back. You really start feeling that you’ve got a chance at the Cup again and when you’re at his age, it may be his last chance, so it’s just an amazing feeling of excitement and you feel great again. For him to have beaten the team he started off with, won two Stanley Cups with and spent so much time with, must have been something else. Now he has a chance at that third Cup and that’s got to be unreal. But he will handle it like a true pro and just go out and play.”
After the Bruins earned a berth in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals on Friday, Jagr was asked if he ever thought he’d have another chance at the Cup, and if he did, whether he’d be getting credit for his defensive prowess?
“It’s not easy on me because I’m used to something else. I know it’s going to make me a better hockey player later, make me stronger,” he said. “If you don’t believe, you don’t have a chance to succeed. So you always have to believe. You have to believe the highest thing you can imagine. Of course, every time I step on the ice I want to win the Stanley Cup. Is it going to happen? I don’t know. It didn’t happen for 20 years. But, I’ll tell you right now all those 20 years that was my goal before the season started.
Jagr plans on playing when the 2013-14 season starts, but right now he’s just enjoying the ride with his teammates.
“I think I can enjoy it more,” Jagr said. “I feel less pressure than I used to feel. It’s a great team, and as long as we keep the confidence -- right now we can beat anybody.”