Perhaps the single most hated former Pittsburgher will take the ice at the Igloo on Friday night wearing the 'C' for the red white and blue, rather than the black and gold. It will mark the first time since his trade out of Pittsburgh in 2001 that Jagr will be on his former home ice during the NHL Playoffs. Jaromir Jagr, second to only Mario Lemieux in virtually every offensive team record for the Pittsburgh Penguins, will try to lead the New York Rangers to a second round victory over the Pens.
Jaromir Jagr has undoubtedly attained superstar status at this point in his career. However, the fact that JJ didn't attain that status as a perennial Penguin has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the majority of Pens fans. Before being traded to the Washington Capitals in 2001, Jagr won 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Hart Trophy, 4 consecutive Art Ross Trophies and was elected to 6 consecutive all-star games as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So then, why do the 'Boo's' resonate through the rafters at Mellon Arena every time Jagr touches the puck? Perhaps the quote "Pittsburgh makes me feel like I am dying alive" serves as the answer to that question. Regardless of if Jagr wanted to be traded out of Pittsburgh, it may have likely happened anyway. Jagr had been experiencing a bit of a slump during the 2000-01 season. Combine that with his rocky relationship with then head coach Ivan Hlinka, the return of Mario Lemieux from retirement, and the Penguins' inability to pay Jagr the big bucks, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. On July 11, 2001 the Pens traded Jagr to the Washington Capitals (for Kris Beech, Michael Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk) in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.
The Penguins struggled through the early 2000's after trading Jagr, but the locker room atmosphere had improved, and with some luck-of-the-draw combined with substandard play, the Penguins were able to rebuild their team with youthful talent, centered around now captain Sidney Crosby, #1 pick Marc-Andre Fleury, and #2 pick Evgeni Malkin.
This Atlantic Division match-up looks to be the most enticing series of the second round. The return of Jagr, the Lundvist vs. Fleury match-up, Avery vs. Ruutu in a battle of the agitators, and the veterans of the Rangers vs. the rising stars of the Penguins are all factors that should make for a great series. One thing is certain, Jagr will be reminded where he is every time he touches the puck at Mellon Arena, most likely in a louder-than-usual manner.
The Penguins were 3-3-2 against the Rangers during the regular season, however, the Pens dropped 3 out of 4 games at Madison Square Garden (the fourth being an overtime loss).
Accompanied by other former Penguins: Michael Rozsival and Martin Straka, Jagr will have his work cut out for him in trying to lead the Blueshirts into the Conference Finals round. Emotions are sure to run high anytime division rivals meet in the playoffs, and I expect this series to be no different. The Penguins need to stick to their guns: keep shooting the puck, playing sound defense in front of Fleury, and protecting leads. The Rangers need to get off to a quick start and win at least one of the first two games on the road if they hope to have any momentum heading back to the Big Apple.