NEW YORK -- Jaromir Jagr lay splattered on the Madison Square Garden ice, motionless for what must have seemed like an eternity.
Having just ripped a shot past Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to give his New York Rangers a 1-0 lead in the latter stages of the second period, Jagr smacked into the Pittsburgh Penguins' Brooks Orpik, sending the Rangers captain tumbling onto his belly with a sickening "splat."
"I didn't even have the chance to celebrate," Jagr said before breaking into laughter after his team's 3-0 victory over the Pens in Game 4 of this Eastern Conference semi-final. "I got it right in the head. That's OK."
While Jagr could yuk it up long after the final buzzer had sounded, he had not been so jovial moments after slamming into The Orpik Train.
With Jagr unable to move for several minutes after impact, the euphoric cheers of the MSG throng transformed into a collective murmur.
Was this the way it was going to end for Jaromir Jagr?
Would his final shift as a New York Ranger and, possibly, an NHLer, come to such a unfitting conclusion for a guy who is destined for the Hall of Fame?
Finally helped to the Rangers bench by one of the team's trainer, a wobbly woozy Jagr was serenaded by the fans.
"Jagr, Jagr, Jagr ...!"
Several minutes later, the capacity crowd held its collective breath when Penguins star Evgeni Malkin was awarded a penalty shot against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundvist.
Malkin slowly closed in, faked a deke, flicked his wrists ... and was stopped.
"Henrik, Henrik, Henrik ...!" the Garden's famous Gallery Gods chirped.
Here is the thing about performing in New York: When you are on Broadway and the audience is singing your name, you have definitely turned in a top-notch performance.
And last night, with their team facing elimination, with Sean Avery and Blair Betts out of the lineup, with almost the entire hockey world doubting their resolve, Jagr and Lundqvist kept the Rangers dream alive by sparking the hosts to a 3-0 victory over the Penguins.
In the history of the National Hockey League, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in games in a best-of-seven playoff series. That's the daunting task facing the Rangers who, while closing the margin in this Eastern Conference semi-final to 3-1 in games entering Game 5 Sunday in Pittsburgh, still have a slippery slope to climb.
Yet they still believe. Jagr does. Lundqvist does. They all do.
Much has been made the past few days about the possibility of Jagr leaving the Rangers and, perhaps, the NHL in order to go to Russia to play next season. At no point has Jagr, 36, confirmed that he will be back in 2008-09, only saying that he still is concentrating on carrying his team back.
To that end, he has been a man on a mission the past two games. After notching a goal and assist in a 5-3 Game 3 loss, Jagr added a pair of goals and a helper last night to move atop the NHL's post-season scoring race with 15 points.
Asked when he previously performed at such a high level, Jagr playfully replied: "I've been playing this way all the time ... you just don't see it."
Having posted his second career playoff shutout, Lundqvist understands the Rangers do not want to waste this opportunity, given that the futures of Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, 39, are up in the air.
"We know this is a special group," Lundqvist said. "We don't want to waste this opportunity."
The crowd hopes their will be many more of those for Jagr. In the game's final minute they said as much, breaking into chants of "Come back Jagr!"
Still, he would not commit.
"That's great," he said of the crowd's support. "But right now I'm just enjoying the moment."
Much to the chagrin of the Penguins.