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Jagr makes statement by going front and center

Jaromir Jagr still had perspiration drizzling steadily off his nose after Game Three when he made a frightening statement. You know the 30 minutes he played and the goal he scored and his 10 shots on net and his screen that set up the winner in double overtime Sunday evening? He was just finding his legs.
"I wasn't tired at all," Jagr said. "I could have played two more periods. Don't worry, I was just warming up."

Uh oh.
The record books will reveal Michal Rozsival gave the New York Rangers a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in Game Three when his slap shot sailed through a maze and found the top corner. But the biggest sign that the Rangers weren't going away quietly came on the final play from their superstar and captain.

Jagr has spent most of his career on the perimeter, mixing a ton of skill with an ounce of passion. At least that's always been the book on him. The slot long ago was deemed too hazardous for his health. The containment area for him was along the boards about 25 feet from the net. That's how you knew the Sabres were in trouble Sunday.
It was obvious in the first period, when Jagr muscled for position just outside the crease and created a few scoring chances. He's 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, but he actually is capable of playing bigger because he has such a strong base. The Sabres would have a better chance of moving out of Buffalo than moving him out of the slot.

One guess where Jagr positioned himself as Michael Nylander swung the puck around the boards and onto Rozsival's stick at the point? He was parked in front of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who didn't see the puck until the replay. It was the appropriate ending to a game in which the Rangers fed off their leader, made sure their energy matched his. How many times has that sentence been written over the years?

Counting that one, once.

"I'm putting the most pressure on myself," he said. "I want to help this team out. I just love the playoffs. How many years do I have left? How many playoffs am I going to have? How many games like that am I going to have? I just enjoy every moment."

People were kidding themselves if they thought Jagr would become the second coming of chronic underachiever Alexei Yashin, one of the all-time no-shows in NHL history. Jagr is the most dominant player in the league when inspired, and he hasn't looked this motivated in years. He deserved better results than just a secondary assist for his work during the two games in Buffalo. He darned near scored in the first minute in Game One, almost forced overtime in the waning minutes of Game Two.

You knew he was going to play a pivotal role at some point, and that's what he did Sunday. He scored the first goal when he poked home a loose puck while bulling his way to the net and gave the Sabres fits all game. Let me put it this way: Henrik Tallinder hasn't spent that much time on one person's hip since he was in diapers. Even the three penalties Jagr took could be construed as a sign he was more involved.

"He's been particularly inspired for a long time," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "He's just hungry. He knows that he's the leader of our team. He understands the residual effect that his inspiration has on us. It looks good on Jaromir. It looks really good because he's our leader."

Let's not get carried away here, the way only Western New York knows how. The Sabres aren't anywhere near in trouble in this series. You can't help but believe Jagr and the Rangers merely came up for air Sunday, gave everything they had in Game Three and avoided the embarrassment of a potential sweep.

Buffalo remains the deeper, faster and more skilled team in this series. The Sabres would have won in the first overtime had Derek Roy's shot inside the post bounced the right way rather than slither along the goal line. It also could have ended in regulation had off-ice officials given Karel Rachunek credit for a goal that bounced off his skate on a play Jagr started behind the Buffalo net.
We'll see where it goes from here. The Sabres would be satisfied with a split in New York and a 3-1 lead going back to Buffalo for Game Five. Jagr has a reputation for playing tough at home and soft on the road. And, really, the Sabres actually have done a good job on him. Tallinder and Toni Lydman have been solid.
Sometimes it doesn't seem to matter. Jagr is going to get his opportunities, he's going to get his points, and he's going to log his minutes.
"The minutes he plays are harder minutes than any of us," winger Brendan Shanahan said. "He's usually carrying someone on his back."
On Sunday, it was the Rangers.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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