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Jaromir ... yes!

Jagr returns, scores deciding goals as Pens stun Devils

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Posted: Tuesday May 04, 1999 12:32 PM

  It was a heroic return, as Jaromir Jagr carried the Penguins to a hard-fought victory over Bobby Holik and the Devils. AP

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jaromir Jagr's recovery was nearly as miraculous as his play.

Jagr, visibly slowed by a groin injury that sidelined him for four games, scored an electrifying tying goal with 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.

Jagr's two-goal performance on a day he wasn't expected to be in uniform no doubt will go down in NHL playoff history not only for its brilliance, but its bravery.

"It was just unbelievable," teammate Brad Werenka said of a victory -- and a memorable one-man show -- that prolonged the Penguins' season and, at least temporarily, saved the bankrupt franchise from possible extinction.

Jagr, the NHL scoring champion, was hurting so badly that he could barely stand up on skates before the Devils' 4-3 victory Friday in Game 5. He talked pessimistically Saturday of playing in Game 6, but became more encouraged after being fitted with some scuba diver's pants that provided more support and partly eased the pain.

"I felt pretty good," he said. "The new pants held my leg a little tighter and I felt much better when I skated. That's when I decided to play."

The series now heads to a climactic Game 7 Tuesday night in New Jersey, a game that seemed improbable when the Devils took a 2-1 lead on Scott Niedermayer's goal at 4:34 of the third.

Improbable most of all to the Devils, who had held Jagr in check until his final flurry provided one of the most dramatic finishes in Penguins' playoff history.

"We're absolutely disappointed about letting this one get away," Brian Rolston said of the Devils' sixth consecutive playoff overtime loss. "Jagr is the best player in the world, so we're not surprised. But we were pretty confident up 2-1 with 2 1/2 minutes to go."

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.

"Titov made a good play and beat the guy outside one-on-one, and he threw it to the net and I just went to the net and hit the puck. It was kind of a lucky goal that went in," Jagr said.

"It's definitely my responsibility to not let that guy beat me to the net," said Niedermayer, who slipped on the play.

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.

Jagr said the goal compared to several during the Penguins' Stanley Cup seasons in 1991 and 1992, including his penalty-shot goal to beat the Rangers in Game 5 of their 1992 series.

"It's tough to say," said Jagr, asked if his third career game-winning overtime goal was his best. "There were some games during the Stanley Cup years, but this was one of the best."

"Even at 65-70 percent, he is better than a lot of players in this league," the Devils' Randy McKay said. "You could see he wasn't 100 percent, but he could still control the puck."

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.

"We like our chances," the Devils' Bobby Holik said of Game 7. "We don't feel pressured. We're not scared. We just feel we're going to win that game."

But, the Penguins now do, too.

"Everybody was saying this might be our last game in Pittsburgh," Alexei Kovalev said. "We didn't want that. New Jersey didn't want to have to go back and play again at home."

The Devils couldn't hold leads of 1-0 and 2-1. They took the initial 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.

Barrasso isn't convinced the Penguins are about to play their last game - either of the season or in franchise history.

"I've never thought that," he said. "I'm just glad the guys on this team got to experience what we went through [in the Stanley Cup years]. It was something, wasn't it?"

Related information
Down 3-2 and without Jagr, Penguins face elimination
Devils beat Pens, need one win to take series
1999 NHL Playoffs
Devils-Penguins Game Summary
The Penguins' Jaromir Jagr was the dagger in the Devils' side.
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