Bruins' Jaromir Jagr shows he can still dazzle

Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr during a break in action against the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the...

Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr during a break in action against the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final at TD Garden in Boston, June 17, 2013. (HARRY HOW/Getty Images/AFP)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:30 AM ET

BOSTON - The puck was following 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr around like it was lost and thought the year was 1996 Monday night.

The Boston Bruins winger is still looking for his first goal of these playoffs, but there is no questioning the effectiveness of the veteran who helped the Bruins to a 2-0 win and a 2-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final Monday night.

Jagr had a second period shift where the puck just kept coming back to him. As the players have gotten bigger and stronger over the 23 years since he came into the league as a mullet-wearing 18-year-old in 1990, he is still effective along the boards.

Given a little time and space, he can dazzle.

On Monday, he fired a pass across the goalmouth to the waiting stick of Patrice Bergeron for a power-play goal to make it 2-0 with six minutes to go in the second period. It was a game-changing score because it let the Bruins settle into their relentless high-percentage mode and strangle the life out of the Hawks.

But maybe what was most significant about this night for Jagr was that Boston coach Claude Julien put him on the ice to help protect that 2-0 lead for the last shift of the game with 43 seconds to go, the Chicago net empty and the Hawks pressing.

That is not something you would have seen when Jagr was at the peak of his powers 18 years ago and shows the lengths to which he has re-invented himself in the twilight of his career.

“(Julien) probably wanted me to score in the empty net, I guess. He tried to help me,” joked Jagr. “He wants me to get the monkey off my back and I told him, ‘I love the monkey, man.’ ”

Getting put on the ice in that situation was not lost on Jagr.

“It doesn’t really matter if I score or not. He’s trying to make me important or happy even if I don’t score. I don’t know if I can explain it in English. It’s tough to explain. That’s the first time I’ve felt that in my hockey career. I don’t know if I explained it right. It starts with the coach, but even the whole team.

“The coach is a big factor in that. He’s the guy, even the whole team, they make me even happy when I don’t score. It didn’t happen before, I guess. But they are making me happy. They find a way, starting with the coach, the lines, the players here. I don’t think I’ve felt that with any other team.”

Jagr can still show flashes of his magnificent talent.

In open ice at even strength, you can see what time has done to his straight-ahead speed. He still wears the original version of the Tuuk plastic blades on his skates and after having exhausted his stash of the black ones, has switched to white.

But put him in close quarters along the boards and he can still more than hold his own.

Give him time, like he found on the Bruins power play in the second period, and you can see he still has great hands and great eyes.

With Bruins winger Milan Lucic jamming in front of the net, Jagr found Bergeron at the back door.

“I had two options. Put it on the ice for Looch or in the air for Bergy,” said Jagr, who was asked if he saw the goal coming. “Everything I touch something now, nothing is guaranteed. I feel like I’m cursed or something.”

The assist moved Jagr into fifth place on the NHL’s all-time post-season points list with 197.

The questions kept coming about the pass to Bergeron.

“Listen, I’m not that bad a player, man. I see. I’m not that fast anymore, but I still can see and the hands are soft, they’re still there. Give me some credit.”

Credit given.

It’s been 21 years between trips to the final for Jagr.

He’s back and he’s no passenger.

He’s one of the guys driving the bus.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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