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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Boston Bruins veteran forward Jaromir Jagr was unlacing his skates Tuesday afternoon when reporters began to swarm his locker stall.
Before a question was even asked, Jagr looked up at the media scrum surrounding him and said: "Yes, I remember the last time Pittsburgh and Boston played."
A roar of laughter filled the Bruins' locker room at Ristuccia Arena. The 41-year-old future Hall of Famer was an 18-year-old rookie during the 1990-91 season. That spring, the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the Bruins in the Prince of Wales Conference championship. Boston quickly gained a 2-0 series lead before Pittsburgh won four straight.
"It was pretty nasty," Jagr recalled. "I remember that's the way we had to play to be able to beat Boston. They were pretty tough, especially at home on the small ice. [The old Boston Garden] was the smallest rink in the NHL back then, and they knew how to play on the small ice. I remember that very well. We lost the first two games here in Boston and we [outshot] them a lot, but Andy Moog was in net, and he was outstanding."
|Jaromir Jagr, 41, is 13 seasons removed from his time with the Penguins.|
Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, Barry Pederson and the rest of the Pittsburgh team eventually beat the Minnesota North Stars for the Stanley Cup title.
Boston and Pittsburgh went at it again the following season, only that time the Penguins swept the Bruins for the conference championship. Jagr scored the winning goal in overtime during Game 1 of that series.
Now, 21 years later, the Bruins and Penguins will face off again in the conference finals, but now Jagr is playing for Boston. He was asked what he would have thought if someone told him during his rookie season that he would be in this situation in the year 2013.
"I don't think anybody would have told me that. If they did, they would be dead right now," Jagr said with a laugh. "Back then I was 18, 19 years old, I didn't think that far ahead. I was kind of thinking what was going to happen tomorrow, not 20 years later."
Jagr couldn't have known he would still be playing in the NHL at age 41. Back then, the idea was something he probably couldn't fathom.
"I don't think you think that way at all," he said. "If you love something -- doesn't matter what it is, if you love your job, you love someone personally -- you just want to be with that all the time. To me, I love this game, and as long as I can play it, I'm going to play it. That's the reason I'm playing -- because I love it."
After spending the first 11 seasons of his career with the Penguins, Jagr was traded to the Washington Capitals in July 2001. A lot has happened in his career since his days in Pittsburgh and he's been back many times as a visiting player. But when it's the Stanley Cup playoffs, it's a totally different story.
"A lot of people still remind me of that, but don't forget it happened 13 years ago the last time I played for them," Jagr said. "It's a long time, and 23 years ago was my first game, so it's so many years between that and I've played for a lot of other teams."
In addition to the Penguins and Capitals, Jagr has played with the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars and now the Bruins. How he landed in Boston is interesting.
After the Bruins and Calgary Flames agreed on a deal that would bring star-studded trade chip Jarome Iginla to Boston, the future Hall of Famer exercised his no-movement clause and vetoed the trade to the Bruins, instead forcing a deal with the Penguins. So Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli made a deal with the Stars to acquire Jagr.
Not only is Jagr playing against his former team, but also against Iginla. Still, Jagr says he's not looking to prove anyone wrong.
"That's one way to look at it, but if you start looking at it this way you're going to get crazy pretty soon," Jagr said. "There are so many things, you just have to take the way it is right now. There are no 'ifs,' because something else might happen."
Since his arrival in Boston, Jagr hasn't produced offensively as much as he would like, but he's getting the scoring chances and seems to be getting comfortable with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in the playoffs.
Even though Jagr's not scoring, Bruins coach Claude Julien says, he's doing other things to contribute.
"Everything else," Julien said. "I think it's unfortunate that his numbers don't reflect his play, but he's had some -- I can remember twice, he's got the open net, right next to it, and gets robbed twice. It's got to be a little frustrating for a guy like him. He's there, he's in the right position.
"He's made a lot of good things happen with that line. Bergeron started producing when he got on it, again, for all the reasons I've been saying the last couple of weeks. He's been good; his attitude's been great. As you can see, he works hard, he does extra. He's in it for the right reasons. His experience and what he means in our dressing room, what he's done in his career and how the other players look at him., He's been nothing but a great asset."
Since the scoring hasn't been there, some have suggested Julien should move Tyler Seguin back to the Bergeron line and drop Jagr back with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, but that's unlikely at this point. Jagr has yet to score a goal in the playoffs, but he's not showing any frustration.
"Of course, I would love to score, I always love to score, and nothing is going to change me," Jagr said. "But, sometimes, there are things no matter what you do -- it's not going to come, and maybe there's a reason for that.
"Right now, I'm suffering, but maybe something great will happen a little later. That's the way you've got to look at it, and that's the way I'm looking at it. I'd rather not score and still be playing than scoring and being home on vacation right now."
Against the Rangers in the conference semifinals, there were plenty of chances when it appeared Jagr would find the net only to fall short. Bergeron admits it has been an adjustment to play with Jagr, but the chemistry seems to be forming.
"He's got a different style the way he plays, and you need to read off of that," Bergeron said. "He's obviously an amazing player, and me and [Marchand] are trying to learn from him but also trying to contribute as much as we can."
Boston's assistant captain can sense Jagr is ready to break out.
"For sure," Bergeron said. "It's right there, especially for a player like him, and he's got the experience also to work through that. I'm not worried about him at all. He's a great player. He's fun to play with, and it's right there."
Last spring, Jagr was a member of the Flyers, and as they were preparing to face the Penguins in the first round, he was forced to answer a lot of the same questions he was asked Tuesday afternoon. Last season, the Flyers beat the Penguins 4-2 in the quarterfinals.
"We played a physical game in the first round, and it was a pretty exciting series for the fans," Jagr said. "It was up-and-down hockey with a lot of goals scored. There wasn't much defense, and I don't think the goaltenders had a great series. It was high scoring and everybody enjoyed it. But it was different, and [the Bruins] are a different team than Philly."
The Bruins are a different team. Boston has more depth, and Jagr adds to it. If he can help his current team beat his former team, Jagr will have an opportunity to once again play for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup, which is something he hasn't done in 21 years, since he was with the Penguins.
"It's the playoffs, and when the third round starts, there will only be four teams left and that's pretty exciting," he said. "I don't remember when the last time I was in this position, probably '96 or '97, so it doesn't happen very often and the players should realize that it's not automatic to make the playoffs and automatic to be one of the last four teams to play for the Cup."