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Back issues

Jagr's injury hurting Flyers more than it hurts him

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Posted: Wednesday May 03, 2000 08:46 PM

  Jaromir Jagr Jaromir Jagr's sore back still can carry the Peguins' load. Harry How/Allsport

By Jim Taylor, SLAM! Sports

During the Civil War, a Union officer complained to Abraham Lincoln about Gen. U.S. Grant's drinking.

The president thought for a moment and issued an executive order.

"Find out what he drinks," he said, "and send a case to all my other generals."

Which brings us, somewhat circuitously, to Jaromir Jagr's sore back.

Lincoln was pretty cagey, although you could question his play selection. If he could turn a perceived liability into an asset, maybe Bobby Clarke should follow suit: If Jagr can play as he is with a wonky back, why not send the trainers in to wrench every Flyer's?

After all, it plays hell with Jagr's backswing, forcing him to punch his shots like his stick is a pub dart. He says it bothers his skating. There is no way, he insists, that he is anywhere near what he has been or should be.

So all he's done in the Stanley Cup chase to date is score eight goals, including two of his four game-winners on ricochets off opposing players and one last night that was almost eerie.

Forty seconds into the second period, his Penguins down 2-0 to the Flyers, Jagr was parked on the corner of the Philly net, the puck in the air over the net, well out of his reach.

So what happens? Defenceman Eric Desjardins, trying to bat the puck down-ice, bats it directly onto Jagr's stick. Poke, poke, and in.

All around him, Flyers shoulders sagged like baggy nylons.

They sent Chris Therien out to climb into his jockstrap. They've double-teamed him, they've swarmed him, they've done everything but blow up his car as he drives to the rink. Nothing's worked. Not for long, anyway.

If they don't go at him in groups, he can make them look silly. If they do, as three of them did midway in the second period for the tying goal by Martin Straka, he finds the open man and they're beaten anyway.

It figures it would be Straka, or if not him or Jagr, Robert Lang. Straka's goal was Pittsburgh's eighth of the series, and the three Czechmates had scored every one of them.

And when John LeClair put the Flyers up 3-2 on sheer, Herculean effort, there was Jagr, tying it again with one of those run-of-the-mill highlight reel jobs that have Pittsburgh thinking maybe they should take that Mario Jr. tag and erase the Jr.

So into overtime they went, with everyone in Mellon Arena -- mailing address 66 Mario Lemieux Place -- wondering if and daring to hope that the bad-backed one had one spasm left. What a story! What a screenplay. What a movie!

But as any director will tell you, it takes more than stars to make a movie. You've got to have your spear-carriers, too. And on this night, the Flyers had one named Andy Delmore.

Delmore had scored the first Flyers' goal, and it was Delmore who got the last, ending an overtime period dominated by a Philadelphia team that suddenly seemed to remember how big and tough it was, mugged and shackled Jagr and turning a series that seemed over into one the Flyers are suddenly within a win of tying.

That's not to say they'll do it. Jagr is playing with missionary zeal, and no one has really stopped him yet.

But maybe the Flyers will get lucky. Maybe, between now and tomorrow night, his back problems will clear up.

They can't afford to face a Jagr as unhealthy as he was last night.

More hockey from SlamSports    

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