TORONTO – Boston Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr often looks like he’s going slower than others, his six-foot-three 240-pound frame most often found controlling the puck along the boards.
It’s a deceiving style that gets results.
The 41-year-old Czech is no longer the first-line forward he once was but he still plays an important role for the Bruins, who have a 2-1 lead on Toronto in their first-round playoff series.
Jagr’s remarkable stick skills and vision make him a stiff challenge for opposing defencemen. Factor in his experience and hockey smarts and he can still be quite a handful on the ice.
“If you can imagine pushing up against that wall, that’s what it feels like because he’s that big and that strong,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said Tuesday. “And the one thing I think is he’s probably in the best shape he’s ever been in in his career right now. If you look at him, he’s a big man and he loves to play the game.”
Jagr’s presence was noticeable throughout Boston’s 5-2 win at Air Canada Centre on Monday night.
Early in the second period, he stripped Toronto’s Ryan O’Byrne of the puck behind the net. Jagr found Rich Peverley in front and he buried it to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
Jagr has averaged about 15 minutes of ice time a game in this Eastern Conference quarter-final. He’s proving to be a key component of the Bruins’ offensive attack.
“His demeanour and his commitment to the game and to his conditioning has a lot to do with it,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “He’s obviously a guy that keeps himself in great shape for a 41-year-old. His skill set is second to none and that’s one of those things that’s always been with him.”
Jagr became a star alongside Mario Lemieux shortly after breaking into the NHL with Pittsburgh back in 1990. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in Jagr’s first two seasons.
The five-time scoring champion has played for a number of NHL teams and spent three seasons in the KHL before joining the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011. Jagr spent part of this past season in Dallas before he was dealt to Boston ahead of the trade deadline.
He feels the Bruins are a well-rounded team with plenty of post-season potential.
“I think our forwards are pretty strong and a lot of them can play very physical hockey, so this is the advantage,” Jagr said. “When we play our hockey, tough hockey, play on the boards—we can beat anybody.”
Jagr is trying to find his peak form after battling flu-like symptoms for several days late in the regular season. He’s still drawing raves from the opposition.
Leafs defenceman Mark Fraser said Jagr has the unique ability to expose the puck and put the defender into a vulnerable position.
“For such a big body, he actually can be quite slippery,” Fraser said. “He’s really just a phenomenal player and he’s a Hall of Fame player. He’s proven it his whole career.”
Jagr uses a patient style that works well with his size and reach. He uses his creativity and control to great effect.
“He protects the puck so well, he slows the game down,” said teammate Nathan Horton. “He sees the ice so well, it makes him a great player.”
Jagr has 190 career NHL playoff points, tying him with Brett Hull for sixth place on the leagues all-time list. He has 78 goals and 112 assists in 183 career playoff games.
He’ll look to build on that total in Game 4 on Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre.
“You try to just learn from him,” Horton said. “He’s been around a long time. You just watch him and see how he is, he’s been a great teammate.
“Like I said, it’s nice to have him on our team.”
With files from Canadian Press senior sports writer Neil Davidson.