The Jagr Saga: Time for Penguins Fans to Bury the Hatchet – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

The Jagr Saga: Time for Penguins Fans to Bury the Hatchet

When New Jersey winger Jaromir Jagr stepped onto the ice last night at CONSOL Energy Center, I was hoping against hope that the partisan crowd would let bygones be bygones and treat the future Hall-of-Famer with some dignity and class.

pp0411Alas, an all-too predictable chorus of boos rained down from the rafters whenever Jagr touched the puck. Rough treatment for arguably the second-greatest player in franchise history, one who scored so many big goals—and created so many luminous memories—they could literally fill the Mon Valley.

I’m as guilty as the next person for holding a grudge. I’ve written some uncomplimentary things about the Czech Republic native. As recently as December 29, 2011, when Jagr scored his first goal here as a member of the hated Flyers—and then had the temerity to salute the crowd—I seethed with anger.

Yet time has a way of healing all wounds. I wish to bury the hatchet and appreciate Jagr for what he was (and in some ways, still is)—one of the most singular talents in the history of the game.

For me, the first sign of Jagr’s greatness—and uncanny flair for the dramatic—occurred during the 1991 Patrick Division Semifinals. The Penguins lost to New Jersey in the series opener and barely managed to push Game 2 to overtime. A second defeat would have all but dashed the Pens’ Stanley Cup hopes.

With his team in dire straits, the “Kladno Kid” stepped forward with an absolute gem of a goal. Nine minutes into the extra frame the 19-year-old rookie steamed into the Devils’ zone, only to be met head-on by John MacLean just off the right sideboards.

Displaying the remarkable puck control that would become his hallmark, Jagr fended off the Devils’ winger with his left arm while stickhandling with his right. After breaking loose from MacLean, No. 68 cut across the slot while playing a high-stakes game of chicken with goalie Chris Terreri. When Terreri flinched, Jagr coolly flipped the puck into the net. The retractable dome nearly blew off the old arena.

“It was a great goal by Jaromir,” gushed teammate Kevin Stevens.

My second most memorable Jagr goal took place during the Patrick Division Finals the following spring. The Penguins—minus big guns Mario Lemieux and Joey Mullen—were locked in a titanic struggle with the Rangers, the odds-on favorites to win the Cup. With the series tied 2-2 and the Pens trailing 2-1 in the pivotal Game 5, “Jags” took charge.

After beating John Vanbiesbrouck on a penalty shot to knot the score, Jagr flew into the New York zone with five minutes to play. When rugged Jeff Beukeboom stepped up to challenge, the mullet-topped winger made a ballistic move to the net, turning the Rangers’ defenseman into a pillar of salt. Jagr ripped the puck past a stunned Vanbiesbrouck for the game-winner, irretrievably shifting the series in favor of the black and gold.

Memorable goal number three—and perhaps his most brilliant—occurred during Game 1 of the ’92 Stanley Cup Finals. With the Pens trailing 4-3, Jagr stickhandled through virtually the entire Chicago team before slipping the puck between goalie Ed Belfour’s pads. The Penguins rallied to beat the Blackhawks and never looked back.

“That was probably the greatest goal I’ve ever seen,” Lemieux said afterward. “Jaromir’s probably going to be the best player in the world in a couple of years.”

Mario proved to be prophetic. Five Art Ross Trophies and a Hart Memorial Trophy firmly established Jagr as one of the game’s all-time greats.

Let’s hope we, as Penguins fans, learn to embrace that legacy.

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  1. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    December 28, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I never held “the grudge” against Jagr, or anyone who has left here. It’s a business. You go where the money is. That being said, my guilty pleasure in all of this is many of the players who have left were never again the same players they were when here. Jagr falls into that category too, in my estimation. My personal “boo” was that other teams got to pay the big contracts for mediocre play. Besides Jagr, I give you Jordan Staal, Talbot, Malone, and well, there are plenty of examples. Jagr has always been a great hockey player, but after Pittsburgh he was never the force of nature he was in black and gold.

  2. Rini's Gravatar Rini
    December 17, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I agree. However, I don’t see it changing. Jagr has provided me with some great memories when he played here in Pittsburgh. Loved when he played with Straka. Plus the two cups. However, Pittsburgh fans except “their ” players to remain faithful to the city. I have a Jagr jersey and haven’t worn it for years. I don’t want to be boo’ed when I go to a game. LOL.

  3. heather's Gravatar heather
    December 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I agree. I’ve been watching Jagr for nearly as long (I discovered hockey and the Penguins around ’94), and have had a lot of emotional ups and downs, to say the least. It’s hard remembering the magic that he had with Pittsburgh, the way he and Lemieux would effortlessly make seemingly impossible plays, and then seeing real life play out, as opposed to the fantasy I had in my head of that going on forever. The fact remains that the magic was real. He’s one hell of a player. The sting has died down enough for me to recognize and applaud that.

  4. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    December 14, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick when will the salary chart be updated??

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      December 18, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good question, pen’s 4ever. I generally don’t get involved in the salary chart, but hopefully Phil or one of our other PP bloggers will be updating it.

      • pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
        December 21, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        ok thanks

  5. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    December 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Good read..I loved # 68 as a Penguin, I was more upset when he signed with the Flyers after all the talk of returning to play for his mentor. I still find it hard to not boo for him.
    I used to have a mullet, I also played the wing on my hockey team, he WAS my favorite Pen. I have never worn my JAGR, Pens jersey since he signed with the Flyers


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