- Scott Burnside, NHL
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TORONTO -- I looked down from the press box Monday night during the national anthems, an electric atmosphere rocking Air Canada Centre before Game 3.
I wondered in particular what was going through Jaromir Jagr's mind. I was picturing the future Hall of Famer soaking it all in, wanting to make sure he enjoyed these types of moments as his spectacular career nears its final few laps.
And I was right.
"It's funny you ask me the question," Jagr said. "I was actually thinking about it during the national anthem. I'm not going to play many more games. Hopefully I might play a year, maybe two. I would love to. …
"It was pretty special, especially in Toronto and Canada, where people love hockey so much. Even in our city in Boston. It's something you have to enjoy. It's special. It's kind of an extra bonus for a hockey player just to be part of that."
At 41, the native of Kladno, Czech Republic, is taking time to smell the roses. He's had an incredible career, accomplished about everything you can imagine, and he's just trying to enjoy every little moment left now.
Another Stanley Cup? It's not something he's looking to add to his résumé, but rather for others.
"For me, it's more special if I can help to make somebody else happy, or the fans, or my teammates who have never won it," the Boston Bruins winger told a large media throng Tuesday. "That's what I enjoy more."
Jagr had a strong performance in Game 3 after a couple of tepid performances in the opening two games of the series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He had a legitimate excuse.
"I had a tough flu before the playoffs," Jagr said. "It wasn't easy on me, because I like to practice a lot. It's the first time it's ever happened to me where I couldn't do anything for 5-6 days. I lost a lot of weight. I still don't feel good, although I feel better. I felt better yesterday [in Game 3], but I'm still not stronger like I want to be."
Jagr was strong enough Monday night, judging by how well he kept the puck away from defenders. And he's so difficult to control along the boards (that's the Jagr of old), like when he stole the puck behind the Leafs' net and fed Rich Peverley in front for a 2-0 Bruins lead.
"Last night, he was real good," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "He's hard to get the puck off of. The low cycle game, puck protection, and he had 3-4 legitimate scoring chances and of course made the nice play to strip the puck and fed Peverley."
Chiarelli acquired Jagr from the Dallas Stars the day before the trade deadline last month, a deal he didn't think was even possible following a conversation with then-Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk weeks before.
"He wasn't available," Chiarelli said. "It was their plan, according to Joe, that they were planning on re-signing him. So we kind of laid off of him. But we had scouted him quite heavily. Towards the deadline, they changed their plan. It was well-publicized we had gone after a couple of other guys, but Jaromir then became available, and we went after him."
There's been an adjustment period. Jagr was playing in the Western Conference, where the game is different; he's got new teammates to get used to in Boston.
And he's a unique character. He has an ebullient personality. He also works out like crazy. The challenge for the Bruins was to integrate Jagr in a short time.
"It's been good. He is different, he has his own ways of preparing himself," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He loves to work out. As a coach, sometimes you want to give rest to the players, but he would prefer working out. At this stage of his career, you let him do what keeps him going. Pretty impressive for a guy his age to be going to the way he's going. So let him do his own stuff.
"But the thing is, he's a great individual. He's funny, he likes to joke around, he's a pleasant guy to have in your dressing room. That's what people have to understand. A lot of people seem to think he's high-maintenance; he's not. He's high-maintenance with himself, but not with us. He's been good."
Some Bruins players idolized Jagr growing up. Now they're teammates with him. That's an adjustment in itself. But Chiarelli said Jagr has made it easy.
"He personalizes a superstar," the GM said. "I think the guys were originally in awe of him. Now they see he's just a normal guy. This is a guy that probably half the guys in our locker room looked up to as a superstar for their whole life, just watching him play, myself included."
"He was great," van Riemsdyk said. "It was always fun to come to the rink with him. He was always smiling and having a great time. It helped keep the room loose and upbeat."
Has he tried to steal a glance from Jagr in this series?
"He's all business out there, but I see he's got the mullet coming back, so that's good," van Riemsdyk said.
In all seriousness, it's clear that just being around Jagr for one season had an impact.
"The biggest thing with him is how much he works at it, the different things that he does," van Riemsdyk said.
Van Riemsdyk talked about the time last season when he joined Jagr for one of those midnight ice sessions the Czech veteran likes to have. Who works out at midnight? Jaromir Jagr, that's who.
"I went with a good buddy of mine, a guy I grew up with," van Riemsdyk said. "We were laughing that had I told him five years ago we'd be sitting in a hockey rink at 12:30 at night going out for a skate with Jaromir Jagr, he'd call me crazy. …
"Some of the stuff he showed me, especially shooting, I still try to work on out there."
Even those who've never played alongside Jagr admire the legend. Leafs defenseman Mark Fraser concedes that even though he's trying to beat Jagr's team, it's a thrill to be facing him.
"It's pretty neat," Fraser said. "Even watching him from the bench. He's simply the best, he has a big body and knows how to control and protect the puck, but he has so much skill that he's truly a dangerous opponent. You think you're pushing him to the outside, and you may think he's exposing the puck, but you're actually in a vulnerable position. He has the intelligence and skill set to get around you. For such a big body, he can be quite slippery."
Just don't call him slower. Jagr doesn't buy it.
"Sometimes you hear, 'You're older, you're losing a step, you're losing the speed,'" Jagr said. "In my opinion, I don't think I've lost much. But I'm 240 [pounds], and everybody else is 180. When I played 15 years ago, everybody was 230-240. It was a different game, don't forget that. I don't think I'm slow for a 240-pound guy, you know what I mean?
"But on the other side, I have a huge advantage along the boards. I never had that 10-15 years ago. Look at those defensemen who played before, all 6-4, 6-5. The league has changed to the smaller, faster guys."
One defenseman Jagr no longer has to battle is Zdeno Chara … a fact he's thankful for. The two stars are central figures for their native countries, the Czechs and Slovaks of course being big-time rivals on the ice.
"He's half Czech; you probably didn't know that," Jagr said. "I didn't know that, either. His father is Czech.
"But I'm happy I'm on his side. He's the toughest guy to play against. I played so many years against him, he was always matched up against me. I had a tough time playing against him. Finally I'm happy to play on his side. He's the key of our success. If we're going to have any success, he's the key reason."
Chara and Jagr share an important trait: an incredible work ethic.
"He keeps himself in great shape for a 41-year-old," Julien said of Jagr. "His skill set is second to none.
"He may have lost a bit of speed, which is understandable. He hasn't lost his hockey sense, his creativity and his skill level. To be that good at this age, you have to be committed, and that's what he is."
8dScott Burnside and Craig Custance