Jaromir Jagr never would have predicted it in a million years.
He’s getting more ice time because of his — get this — defense.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” said Jagr in his Czechoslovakian accent with a wry smile, about a half-hour after the Boston Bruins disposed of the Pittsburgh Penguins last weekend. “Me playing defense? Wow.”Apparently, strange things happen when you get old — he turned 41 on Feb. 21. You adapt. Or you retire.
“Oh, I’m not done playing hockey after this year, no way,” said Jagr. “I love this game too much. I’m having too much fun.”
He admits coming to the Bruins has been a lot like tasting the NHL’s version of the Fountain of Youth. The passion is special.
“I always knew this city loved hockey,” said Jagr, of his 40-plus visits to Boston as an opposing player. “But it’s more than I expected. Everyone loves this team. Everyone. I can understand it ... I love it, too.”Jagr loves it so much that he has had to swallow large chunks of his pride and be more of a facilitator than “The Man.”
“That’s hard to do when you’ve been that guy for so long,” said Jagr. “There’s extra pressure, but I always liked it. I didn’t mind the pressure. Now I have to come with a different (mindset). I have to play a role.”
It’s not a bad role, mind you, playing a regular shift with two heros from the last Bruins Stanley Cup title run, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Not to mention a spot on along the “wall” on the first power play.
In fact, his partnership with Bergeron borders on special.
“I have so much respect for Patrice,” said Jagr. “I have learned a lot watching him. A lot of guys in this league are offense first and defense second. He is the opposite, defense first and offense second.
“Patrice will not take a risk unless there is (a) 100 percent chance he can make the play,” said Jagr. “It’s amazing. He is so concerned about giving up a scoring (opportunity). I’ll never be like that, but I’m getting better.”
While he has learned to embrace a more defensive-oriented role — “Or I wouldn’t play,” he said — he is still struggling with the fact that he hasn’t scored a goal in the playoffs yet.
“It’s very frustrating because I’ve had opportunities,” said Jagr. “If this was earlier in my career with Pittsburgh, when people expected me to score, I would really be struggling with this. But I realize here I have to do more.
“But that doesn’t mean I am satisfied,” he said. “I still like to score ... a lot.”
Entering this Stanley Cup Finals with the Chicago Blackhawks, Jagr has 196 points in 196 playoff games, with 78 goals and 118 assists. He has only seven assists in 16 playoff games with the Bruins.
“Who knows? Maybe my time to score will be in the finals,” said Jagr, with a smile. “But I have to focus on doing my job first. And that’s helping the team win.
“This has been a lot of fun,” he said. “I haven’t been here a long time, but I feel like part of the (Bruins family).”
Jagr said he doesn’t take this game for granted any more, like he probably did only a few years ago, especially playing games in mid-to-late June.
“I won (two Stanley Cups) in 1991 and 1992,” he said. “I thought then that I’d win a lot more. But it’s hard, really hard. The Pittsburgh Penguins found that out against the Bruins. I love playing this game. And I do love scoring, too. But right now, my focus is on winning. That’s why I’m here in Boston.”
Email Bill Burt at email@example.com. His Twitter handle is @burttalkssports.
Stanley Cup Finals schedule Game 1: Tonight, at Chicago, 8 p.m. Game 2: Sat., at Chicago, 8 p.m. Game 3: Mon., at Boston, 8 p.m. Game 4: Wed., at Boston, 8 p.m. If necessary Game 5: Sat., June 22, at Chicago, 8 p.m. Game 6: Mon, June 24, at Boston, 8 p.m. Game 7: Wed, June 26, at Chicago, 8 p.m.