Despite injured shoulder, Jagr returns for Game 3

NEW YORK -- Jaromir Jagr shook off the pain in his left shoulder and returned to the ice Wednesday night for the New York Rangers' crucial playoff game against the New Jersey Devils.

Jagr, the NHL's second-leading scorer in the regular season, was injured late in the opener of the first-round series and missed Game 2 -- New York losses that put the Rangers in an 0-2 hole in the best-of-seven matchup.

After sitting out practice Tuesday, Jagr sounded nothing like a player who would be in uniform the next night. He didn't rule it out but said to play would take a miracle since anything he did with his left arm caused great pain.

"Maybe for some guys it would take a month, hopefully my body is different and heals quick," Jagr said Tuesday. "I'll have to pray a lot and hope for miracles. If the pain lets me play a little bit, I'll be on the ice the first chance I have."

When the lights went up for warmups 35 minutes before the start of Game 3, Jagr was the last New York skater to hit the ice -- much to the delight of the early arriving crowd that didn't expect to see him.

As he checked his sticks at the bench, a cheerful roar went up and it was quickly followed by the familiar chant of "MVP" that has resounded through Madison Square Garden all during this surprising season that landed the Rangers in the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

The cheers grew louder when the list of scratched players was announced and didn't include No. 68. As he hit the ice for real in the darkened arena, the deafening hooting and hollering drowned out the blaring music.

During warmups, Jagr didn't quite look like the offensive force he was during the season and went back to the dressing room after lightly skating for about 10 minutes.

But the right winger, who broke team scoring records with 54 goals and 123 points, couldn't sit idly by as his team that had dropped seven straight games -- dating to the regular season -- faced its surging area rivals. Jagr was in the starting lineup for the Rangers, who were already in dire straights after consecutive losses in New Jersey.

To fall behind 3-0 against the Devils, who entered play Wednesday on a 13-game winning streak, would take a comeback almost more miraculous than Jagr's return from injury.

"He wants to play and he feels responsible for this team and where it's going," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "He wants to be the guy that leads them."

Jagr wasn't the only injured Rangers player to return. Fellow Czech Republic forward Martin Rucinsky returned for the first time since he broke his left index finger on March 24 and had surgery. He has been skating recently and has been working on shooting while waiting for the pain to subside.

Rucinsky, who missed 14 games, practiced with a splint on the finger and was trying different pieces of equipment that would allow him to play.

New York, however, was without defenseman Darius Kasparaitis who was forced to miss his second straight game after aggravating a groin injury that caused him to sit out 12 of the final 14 regular-season contests. He is expected to be back Saturday for Game 4 of the series.