Jagr Carries Penguins to Game Seven
By Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH – Give the save to Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr, visibly slowed by a groin injury that sidelined him for four games, scored an electrifying tying goal with only 2:12 left in regulation, then won it in overtime as the Pittsburgh Penguins staved off playoff elimination by beating the New Jersey Devils 3-2 Sunday.
The Penguins, on the verge not only of elimination but of possible extinction as the franchise's fate is being decided in bankruptcy court, now will play a Game 7 Tuesday night in New Jersey that seemed improbable when the Devils took a 2-1 lead on Rob Niedermayer's goal at 4:34 of the third.
Jagr's two-goal performance on a day he wasn't even expected to play will no doubt go down in NHL playoff history not only for its brilliance, but its unlikeliness.
Jagr said Saturday that he was pessimistic of playing not only Sunday but for the rest of the series. But, despite being less than 100 percent, he played regular shifts and wound up scoring the Penguins' two biggest goals of the series.
With time winding down in regulation and the Devils in control, Jagr tied it by carrying the puck into the Devils' zone, then getting it back from German Titov to score as Niedermayer left him undefended to cover Titov. It was Jagr's first goal since his overtime goal in New York two Sundays before ruined Wayne Gretzky's final NHL game.
Jagr, whose goal clearly shifted the momentum to the Penguins, then won it at 8:59 of overtime. Martin Straka carried the puck down the left wing boards before threading it on the opposite side to Jagr, who beat goaltender Martin Brodeur up high for one of the most dramatic goals in Penguins' playoff history.
Appropriately enough, the player who made a habit of such shots, prospective team owner Mario Lemieux, was watching in the stands with his family.
For New Jersey, the defeat reawakened memories of the top-seeded Devils' stunning first-round playoff ouster by Ottawa a year ago. Just like the Senators, the Penguins also were the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Penguins, outplayed in the first period throughout the series, were clearly buoyed by Jagr's return and had several good early scoring chances, only to see their momentum blunted by an elbowing penalty on Jagr at 8:10.
The Devils didn't score on that power play, but did take a 1-0 lead at 12:04 on Sergei Brylin's backhander from the lower slot off Bobby Holik's one-handed pass from behind the net.
With the Penguins again content to let the bigger Devils control the tempo by failing to answer their physical play, Pittsburgh couldn't tie it until Martin Straka scored his fifth of the series at 6:44 of the second.
Straka, uncharacteristically left alone at the side of the crease for several seconds, directed Alexei Kovalev's pass by Brodeur to at least momentarily get the less-than-capacity crowd of 15,376 back into the game.
Jagr, the three-time NHL scoring champion, returned partly to give a lift to the Penguins' power play. But Pittsburgh didn't gain its first man-advantage until only 1:35 was left in the second period, and its second until more than five minutes into the third period.
Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso stopped 25 shots and wasn't beaten on any of the long shots that the Devils were successful in scoring earlier in the series.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press