Jaromir Jagr was walking a thin line between deadpan and defeatism Thursday.
The New York Rangers' star forward was at his mercurial best after practice in HSBC Arena. He gave the Buffalo Sabres credit for taking a 1-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal, but then he piled it on too much. He admitted the Rangers' wounds were self-inflicted, then he said the Sabres might have had something to do with it. He said things will change, but then again maybe they won't.
No matter what the answers, everyone realizes Jagr needs to improve his no-point, two-shot performance from Game One. The first chance is in Game Two tonight in HSBC Arena.
"Maybe we didn't play our best, but maybe they didn't play their best," Jagr said. "The bottom line is we lost the game. They found a way to win the hockey game. We make some mistakes; maybe they forced us to make the mistakes. Maybe they're good enough to force us to make our mistakes. I don't know. We're going to find out a little later."
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller made 32 saves and was named the first star Wednesday, but Jagr couldn't give an evaluation because he didn't provide much of a test. He just knew he wanted a fitful Thursday night for Miller.
"I didn't test him much," Jagr said. "I don't know how good he is. I think I had one shot. He's a good player. He's beatable. He's not a god.
"Maybe he's going to have a bad day tomorrow. Bad dreams. You never know."
Jagr, who had seven points in four first-round games, was slowed by a collective effort. Defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman shadowed him, and the line of center Chris Drury, left wing Drew Stafford and right wing Dainius Zubrus matched Jagr on 14 of his 24 shifts.
"You've got to give those guys credit," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was a five-man unit that was out there that took away a lot of his ice and held some pretty good defensive positioning."
Jagr, of course, had his own take.
"I just play my game, that's all," he said. "They are just too good, huh?"
Six players skipped Thursday's practices, but only one may miss tonight's game.
The Rangers' Michal Rozsival, who injured his left leg on a check by Ales Kotalik in the first period Wednesday, stayed off the ice and is day-to-day. He was New York's leading defenseman with 10 goals and 30 assists.
"He's the top 'D' on this team," teammate Paul Mara said. "It hurts all around, offensively and defensively."
Defenseman Marek Malik was given the day off.
The Sabres rested defensemen Brian Campbell and Lydman, and forwards Tim Connolly and Stafford.
"We decided to keep some guys off," Ruff said. "Tim, again, just to try and give him enough rest. Other guys just blocked shots or bruises or muscle strains -- nothing right now we don't think is where anybody would miss any time."
Rangers coach Tom Renney wants to be more careful with what he says to the media. He also wants him team to make sure it doesn't believe everything they write.
Renney is aware on-ice problems were the biggest reason for the 5-2 loss in Game One. But he didn't dismiss his players may have believed the good things written about them during a 17-3-4 run.
"I think we're humble enough that truly in our hearts we're not consciously doing that," he said. "But you know what? You can't help but maybe get a little bit full of yourself, especially when you haven't been acquainted with this type of hockey for a long time."
He also cleared up -- again -- his comment that gave the Sabres extra motivation before the series.
"I'm not the one that used 'cream of the crop,' " he said. "It was put to me in a question about, 'Are the Buffalo Sabres the cream of the crop?' I said, 'I don't know if they're the cream of the crop.' That's an honest answer. I don't know. We won't know until the middle of June who the cream of the crop is.
"I think you've got to be a little more calculating in what it is you offer up and how you go about that."