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Jagr returns to first Stanley Cup Final in 21 years - 06-08-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

An aging star acquired at the trade deadline by a black and gold team has punched his ticket to the Stanley Cup final after a long absence.

Much to the chagrin of Penguins fans, it's not Jarome Iginla.

Former Penguins captain Jaromir Jagr (above), 41, played a role in the Bruins 4-0 sweep by recording three assists. As a result, Jagr will participate in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1992 when he won his second title with the Penguins as a 19-year-old.

After last night's 1-0 win in Boston, Jagr held court with the media and answered a variety of questions:

Do you appreciate this trip to the Final more than you did earlier in your career?

"Of course you appreciate it. When you’re younger, you know you’re going to play a long time. I appreciate every game I can play. The more important game it is, it’s the better for me. The way I explain it, I feel like a 70-year-old guy who tries to be alive and be [thankful] for every day he gets on this earth. That’s me and the hockey. I appreciate every day I can play."

What do you expect in the Final?

"We’re probably going to have probably a week off to get the rest. Everybody needs it. It doesn’t matter who we face. It’s going to be a great team. Chicago, a great offense. If it’s going to be [Los Angeles], they know how to win. They have big guys. They play good on the boards. It’s going to be a tough game. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. Not a lot of people are talking about us but we’re a good team."

Has this playoff run made you feel young?

"If you spent a lot of time around 20- or 25-year old guys, of course you have to feel like a kid. If everybody would be 40 like me, it would be different in the dressing room. But there’s a lot of kids around me. You have a choice; Adjust and be a kid or retire. I don’t want to retire yet so I have to be a kid."

What has it been like adjusting to this team?

"I love everybody on this team starting from the trainers to the last guy and the management. I’ve had a lot of run since the first day I came here. There’s a lot of good players but nobody acts like a superstar. There’s good team chemistry here. That’s why I appreciate why we can go to the [Stanley Cup] final. We can spend more team together."

As a member of the Flyers last season, you eliminated the Penguins. Are there any similarities betwen the two teams?

"A totally different game. Totally different series. It was a wide open game. In [Philadelphia], the way we played, we played up and down. We were pretty confident in the dressing room that we could beat them. We weren’t thinking about defense at all. We wanted to beat them straight up and up and down hockey. Who’s going to score more goal. It was a totally different series. Here, as long as we played our style, we were okay. Some periods, we played more the Penguins’ style and it didn’t work for us. I would say the second period [in Game 4], we kind adjusted to them and played up and down and made a lot of turnovers. That’s not our hockey. We’ve got to keep it where we are."

How do you enjoy making little plays which contribute to wins compared to big plays such as goals?

"The game has changed. That’s the first thing. The game has change so there is not much difference between the best player and the worst player on the ice. The fourth line can play easily against the first line. I don’t thing it’s the same as 20 years ago. Coaches could look for the matches – put the first line against the fourth line – and there’s a chance you could score. The game has changed a lot. There’s a lot of good players. Very close. Just to be able to play against them … it’s an honor to me. That’s why I have to work a little extra to be able keep up with them. I don’t mind it because I love to work. I don’t mind to work at all. That’s what makes me happy. Some people hate to work. Hard work makes me happy. Some people don’t enjoy it. I enjoy it."

How do you expelain your team's defense?

"When you play defense, good defense means you play the zone…. With our defense that we play, if [a defensive player] makes a mistake, there’s always somebody else. So it’s tougher. You’d have to beat five guys, not one guy. That’s why I would say it was tough for [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney Crosby] because it was a five guy unit."

As a player who was at one point, the focal point for opposing defenses, how frustrating can it be for Crosby and Malkin being held without a point?

"They’re great players. There’s no question about it. It’s not easy. Everybody is waiting for you to do something. It’s like in basketball. When you [face] a good player, you double team him. Let the other guys beat you. If you’re going to play against LeBron James, you’re going to put two guys on him. Let the ‘Birdman’ [Heat center Chris Andersen] (right) beat you."

What is it like being shutout individually when you play at that level?

"That’s the worst feeling. That’s why I try to work extra so I wouldn’t go through that feeling. But sooner or later, you’re going to go through it. You’re not going to be your best every night for 10 years. It’s impossible. I know they went through it. It’s not easy. I’m sure next year they’ll come back and be the best again."

How tough was it buying into this team's defensive approach?

"It’s not about me. Of course I like to score. I’d like to play a wide open game and everyone would give me the puck and I’d have a chance to score. But it doesn’t work anymore like that. I have to adjust. I can see that it’s working. Maybe I would be that happy if we were losing all the time but it’s working."

Could the 27-year-old version of you commit to a defense like this?

"I would probably score five or six goals in the series and nobody would even [notice my defense]. Ha, ha, ha."

Did you ever doubt you would return to the Stanley Cup final?

"As professional, anything you do in the world, if you don’t believe, you don’t have a chance to succeed. You always have to believe the highest thing you can imagine. Every time I step on the ice, I want to win the Stanley Cup. If it’s going to happen, I don’t know. It didn’t happen for 20 years."

When you won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992, those teams were expected to win more titles but it never happened. The current group in the Penguins' dressing room won the Stanley Cup in 2009 but has yet to win it again. What is it like when you fall short of immense expectations?

"It can happen to anybody. It’s a lot tougher to take it if you’re the favorite but as long as you work hard and you give your best and you don’t have any regrets after the season, its fine. Anybody can get hot for two weeks and everybody can beat everybody. But the hardest thing is knowing you didn’t give 100 percent because you have to live with through the summer and wait for next year. And you don’t know what’s going to happen  next year. Once you get that opportunity, you’ve got to grab it … or least play the best hockey you can play."

You might have to wait another 21 years to get back to the Stanley Cup final.

"I’ll be dead."

(Photos: Jagr first-Claus Andersen/Getty Images; Jagr second-Ken Levine/Allsport/Getty Images; Jagr third-Jim McIsaac/Getty Images; Andersen-Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images; Jagr fourth-Post-Gazette archives)

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