Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tough Enough Florida or Not, Jagr Can Take the Heat

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tough Enough Florida or Not, Jagr Can Take the Heat

Article excerpt

Jaromir Jagr's teammates deflected the question diplomatically. Florida is a good team, they said. Philadelphia is a good team. It doesn't matter who the Pittsburgh Penguins play in the next round of the NHL playoffs, they said.

It matters to Jagr.

"Florida," he said after Pittsburgh's 7-3 victory Saturday eliminated the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup chase. "I would rather play Florida . . . because I get killed by the Flyers."

And he gets his wish. Florida beat Philadelphia, 4-1, Tuesday night, ending the series at 4-2.

Jagr's ear still hurts from an elbow Mark Messier planted there in Game 3. His neck was snapped backward in Game 4 by Jeff Beukeboom's stick. Bruce Driver's stick spent so much time between Jagr's legs in the five-g ame series that it might have been more convenient for both if it just had been taped there to start each game.

It is hard to imagine that the Flyers could have done more to him than Washington and the Rangers haven't already tried to do. Dale Hunter was fond of putting both gloves on his face. The Rangers put bodies on him every chance they could, and he still finished with seven goals and a pair of assists in the short series, including a hat trick Saturday.

That makes it 10 playoff goals and 18 points for the Czech-born superstar. Given his reputation as a soft player, this should surprise many: He has missed just 17 of a possible 544 games during his career.

"It's like he enjoys the contact," his coach, Eddie Johnston, said over the weekend.

Not exactly, said Jagr. "I don't mind the wrestling part of it, playing around the boards," he said. "I don't like the sticks, and the hits I don't see."

Unlike a litany of pretty-playing stars before him, though, Jagr has not disappeared when such phantoms strike. At 6 feet 2 and 216 pounds, he is noticeably bulked up by a weight-training program last offseason, and his ability to fight through checks has improved this season because of it.

"The harder you hit him and the more often you hit him, the angrier he gets and the better he plays," Johnston said.

"There are times we wish he'd stay down after some of the hits he takes and maybe create some penalties. But he won't give them the satisfaction. He gets his retaliation by scoring goals or beating you one-on-one."

Jagr's third goal Saturday with 12.1 seconds left in the second period "was the killer," Johnston said, as it allowed the Penguins to regain a two-goal lead they had squandered earlier in the period. It also emphasized a point the 24-year-old superstar has made throughout these Stanley Cup playoffs: He no longer is Mario Lemieux's caddie.

That ended when Jagr led the league in scoring last season, while Lemieux recovered from Hodgkin's disease. Now Jagr is capable of taking a game into his hands, too. …

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