New Jersey exits again
Jagr gets two assists as Penguins eliminate Devils 4-2
Posted: Friday May 21, 1999 01:37 AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CNN/SI) -- At least the New Jersey Devils can take solace in this fact: It was arguably the best player in hockey -- Jaromir Jagr of the Pittsburgh Penguins -- who knocked them out of the playoffs.
Jagr kept hockey alive in Pittsburgh and sent New Jersey to another early playoff exit, leading the Penguins to a 4-2 win over the Devils in Game 7 of their opening-round series May 4.
Jagr, who revived the Penguins in Game 6 by returning from a groin injury and scoring the tying goal late and the winner in overtime, had two assists in the deciding game. His presence helped set up another goal in a three-goal second period by Pittsburgh, which won despite managing only 13 shots.
"I don't know if I was accurate or not when I said I didn't think we could win the series without him," Pittsburgh coach Kevin Constantine said. "It was pretty prophetic, I think. ... But he is so huge. We were two minutes from elimination. Without him, we are eliminated."
Jagr, who missed four games with the injury, wasn't the only one who stepped up for the Penguins. Martin Straka and Alexei Kovalev had big series and Tom Barrasso made enough big saves, including one of Kevin Dean with about six minutes to play and Pittsburgh clinging to a one-goal lead.
Straka had a goal and two assists, and German Titov, Kovalev and Jan Hrdina added goals to advance the eighth-seeded Penguins to the second round against fourth-seeded Toronto in what is now a wide-open Eastern Conference.
The top three seeds, New Jersey, Ottawa and Carolina, have now been eliminated. Sixth-seeded Boston will play seventh-seeded Buffalo in the other semifinal.
This series will best be remembered for Jagr's courageous return. His missed games 2-5 with the injury and wasn't at full speed when he returned. Even at 60, 70 or 80 percent, the NHL's leading scorer was enough to handle New Jersey, now 2-5 in Game 7s.
"People judge you by how you play in the playoffs, not the regular season," Jagr said. "If you can do something to help the team win and become the leader that takes them to the cup, that's how people are going to judge you."
The Devils are also going to be judged that way after their third straight playoff embarrassment. The conference's top seed the past three seasons. They were ousted in the second round two years ago by the New York Rangers and in the first last year by Ottawa, another eighth seed.
"We just didn't get it done, all of us," defenseman Ken Daneyko said. "I don't think there is any worse feeling. We've been here before, but we expected so much more than last year. There is nothing else to say. I feel sorry for the organization and the fans."
"Right now this seems worse than any situation we've been in and that includes last year," defenseman Scott Niedermayer said. "I was excited about this group of guys going into the playoffs. But it's not surprising why we are where we are. We didn't play 60 minutes."
The Penguins, whose future might well be decided in bankruptcy court next month, took the lead for good on goals by Kovalev and Hrdina in a span of 2:39 late in the second period.
Straka intercepted Scott Niedermayer's pass at center ice and found Kovalev for his fourth goal of the series, this one a shot between Martin Brodeur's legs.
Jagr intercepted a pass by Scott Stevens in the closing seconds and set up Hrdina on a great give-and-go play with 17 seconds left in the period.
Andreychuk gave the Devils some hope by putting in a rebound at 7:24 to cut the lead to 3-2.
However, a bad line change and an errant pass by Bobby Carpenter set up a two-man rush against Brodeur. He stopped Jagr, but Straka put in the rebound and then slide all the way to the Penguins bench to celebrate.
Titov opened the scoring 3:06 of the second period, converting a pass from Straka in front. Jagr made the play by taking the attention of Stevens and allowing Titov and Straka to make the play.
Arnott tied the game with a shot in close at 6:22 after taking a pass from Patrik Elias.
Petr Sykora and Stevens had great chances to give the Devils the lead in the next few minutes, but Barrasso was there to stop them. He finished with 19 saves.
The teams had five shots apiece in a cautiously played first period, although the Penguins had the better scoring chances as Jagr set up two 1-on-1 chances against Brodeur. Hrdina was just wide with a backhander on a breakaway at 16:17, while Brodeur stopped defenseman Brad Werenka's shot with about 6:20 left in the period.
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