It was a stunning moment. A brilliant moment. A moment that only a great captain playing world-class hockey could produce.
With his team's season hanging in the balance, the Rangers already facing the unenviable task of coming back from a 3 games to none deficit against the juggernaut that is the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jaromir Jagr made sure the Rangers season, and perhaps his NHL career, would not be killed off last night.
With about 7:20 remaining in the 2nd period of a 0-0 game, he took a pass from Brandon Dubinsky in full stride, streaking down his less-preferred left wing. Ranger fans have seen this before. Jagr would keep skating to the outside. He would continue into the corner, behind the net, and look to pass to a teammate, or perhaps attempt a wraparound shot. Right?
Not last night. Jagr, who has unfairly developed a reputation in some circles as a "soft" player who shies away from contact, made a quick toe-drag move and cut towards the middle. He fired a screaming wrist-shot through the legs of Marc-Andre Fleury, and as he did so, was absolutely leveled by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, who had come across the ice to check Jagr. Certainly a clean hit, but Jagr was down and not moving and the raucous Garden crowd was buzzing nervously rather than belting out the bombastic "Heys!" of the Rangers Goal Song.
But when Jagr got back to his feet, the roar was deafening and the crowd began to chant his name. The chants continued on and off all night until the Rangers had won the game by a 3-0 score, Jagr assisting on the second goal and scoring the third into an empty net.
After nearly four seasons in which he has helped return the Rangers to contender status, Jaromir Jagr finally had his signature moment. That it came in a series the Rangers will probably eventually lose is inconsequential. Jagr played with pride for his team, his city, his fans.
Sam Weinman, a Rangers beat writer who furiously updates his blog Rangers Report wrote this piece about Jagr's tenure as a Ranger before last night's game. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, Jagr did not meet the requirements to trigger a 1-year, $8.6 million option on his Rangers contract. If the Rangers do not re-sign Jagr, he will probably play his last NHL game this season. And with the Rangers down 3-1 in their series with Pittsburgh, last night could have been his final skate at Madison Square Garden.
He is not a perfect man. He is sometimes too emotional and too honest, like this past week when he admitted to "saving it" for the playoffs and not always going all-out during the regular season. The truth is that most players do this, especially at the age of 36, but many sports fans live in a fantasy world where their athletes aren't supposed to be affected by the limitations of the human body over the course of a grueling 6-month season.
Regardless of Jagr's shortcomings, however, he should be remembered in only a positive light by Ranger fans. In a nearly impossible situation, succeeding Mark Messier as Rangers captain, Jaromir Jagr has done so honorably. He has done everything from score goals - setting the Rangers single-season record of 54 two seasons ago, lest we forget - to help young Rangers such as Petr Prucha and Brandon Dubinsky develop both on and off the ice.
Last night's cheers were long overdue. Jaromir Jagr has been a great Ranger.