Happy in Boston, Jagr would have loved to stay a Flyer

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Happy in Boston, Jagr would have loved to stay a Flyer

Jaromir Jagr is 41 years old.

But from the way he acts in the Boston Bruins’ locker room -- and certainly from the way he looks on the ice -- he might as well be 21.

The former Flyer-turned-Star-turned-Bruin returned to the Wells Fargo Center for Tuesday’s 5-2 Flyers' win (see story). It was his first time in the building since he left during last year’s free agency, but he brought with him the same pluck and perspective he became known for during his sole season in Philadelphia.

And he tallied an assist on the B’s first goal of the night, too.                         

That the Flyers miss Jagr has been a constant refrain of the team’s disappointing 2013 campaign. His influence on key members of the club like Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek was invaluable.

The fans in Philadelphia missed Jagr even before the Flyers’ fate was sealed this season. The media, too.

By now, though, it’s very old news that the Flyers didn’t offer Jagr a contract last summer. General manager Paul Holmgren admitted Tuesday that the Flyers did attempt to re-sign him, though, in February. Jagr and his agent chose to wait until July before eventually walking, as the organization waited on free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to decide their fates.

But it didn’t have to be that way. Jagr would have welcomed the opportunity to remain a Flyer.

“I was very happy here, everybody knew it,” Jagr said. “I love that team. I love the fans. I love the city. But on the other side, I always believed in God, and I always believed He finds the best place for me.”

When asked if he was upset when the Flyers elected not to re-sign him last summer, Jagr paused for a long time. But he understands how the “free market,” as he referred to it, works. Jagr owns a team in his native Czech Republic; he completely understands the desire of an organization to go after the best possible players available.

That’s just one of the veteran winger’s unique characteristics –- as much as he is still a factor on the ice (he has 35 points in 43 games this season), Jagr also views the sport with a wisdom and outlook usually reserved for coaches and general managers.

And in the case of Parise and Suter, Jagr actually thinks it’s a good thing the Flyers didn’t land either player.

“They’ve got good enough players here,” Jagr said. “They didn’t have to do it. They’re a good enough team here. If they would have a little more patience, I would think this team can win it in two or three years.”

Last May, on the night the Flyers were eliminated from the postseason by the New Jersey Devils, Jagr was the only one in the team’s locker room with a slight smile on his face. The run was over, he knew, but he had loved his time in Philly. Of a career that’s spanned more than two decades, Jagr said his year with the Flyers represented the most fun he’d ever had.

Now, having been in Boston about three weeks, Jagr still feels the same way. But he’s beginning to notice some similarities between his new team and the club with which he spent 2012-13.

“The fans are so good here,” Jagr said. “They follow the sport. Surprisingly, Boston is so similar to Philly. Boston fans, Boston people and Philly people, they love the sport, they love the team. They follow the hockey, they follow the baseball, they follow the football. It’s similar.”

Jagr's effect on the two cities has also been similar, even after just a few weeks in Boston. When asked what Jagr has brought to the Bruins in his nine games with the team, former Flyer Dennis Seidenberg grinned and said, “Everything.”

Coach Claude Julien got a little more specific.

“Good scoring depth and a great example for younger players to see what it takes to be a pro for a long time,” Julien said. “He’s a great teammate, easy to get along with. He’s brought a lot of good things and he’s been a great help for us when he came to us. We had some injuries so he was able to fill in some holes that we really needed filled.”

Jagr signed just a one-year deal during last year’s free agency with the Dallas Stars for $4.5 million, before he was traded to Boston at the deadline earlier this month. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess where he ends up next year. He declined to discuss whether he’d want to return to the Flyers –- though of course it’s a possibility. They could use him.

All that’s basically certain is that he will end up somewhere in the NHL next year, as long as he has a say in the matter. Jagr will be 42 in February, but he’s far from ready to hang up his skates.

“I’ll stop playing when I die, man,” he said, with his trademark Jagr grin.

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

BOSTON -- Nikita Kucherov had his third career hat trick to lead Tampa Bay to a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, snapping the Lightning's three-game losing streak.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and two assists, Brayden Point had a goal and an assist and Anton Stralman also scored to help the Lightning pull three points behind the Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Peter Budaj finished with 28 saves for the Lightning to earn his 29th win of the season. Ondrej Palat had three assists, and Jake Dotchin and Victor Hedman added two each.

Riley Nashy had a goal and an assist for Boston, and David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara also scored. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots as Boston, which won seven of the first eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, has now lost four straight and six of 11 (see full recap).

Oshie beats Bobrovsky to give Caps SO win
WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington's 35th shot of the game. Orlov's goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead (see full recap).

Senators take down Penguins in shootout
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan scored in the shootout to lift the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Mike Hoffman scored in regulation for the Senators and Mike Condon finished with 34 saves, including two incredible point-blank stops in overtime to keep the game going.

Nick Bonino had the goal in regulation for the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 29 shots.

After being outplayed for much of the first two periods, the Senators were much better in the third and tied the score 1-1 on the power play at 9:43 as Hoffman beat Murray over the shoulder with a wrist shot just 14 seconds after Matt Cullen was penalized for holding (see full recap).

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Zach Parise scored for the Minnesota Wild just 2:07 into Thursday's game, the Flyers were in another difficult position on the road.

This time, they responded with the type of game they've needed on the road all season.

The Flyers scored three unanswered goals by Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek to beat Minnesota, 3-1, and snap a four-game losing streak on the road (see Instant Replay).

"They're a tough team to handle in their transition," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Parise's goal. "It's quick and it's fast. The players on the bench were outstanding, talking, real calm. Just go out and push it the other way the next shift and I thought we were able to do that."

The Flyers responded with one of their best efforts on the road in nearly two months and pulled within six points of Boston for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see standings). The Bruins lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay.

Steve Mason made 24 saves in goal for his 100th win with the Flyers as the team was rarely challenged thanks to an all-around performance that has been missing on the road. The Flyers entered the night tied for the second-fewest road wins in the conference this season.

"Certain things on the road, you've got to be a little more specific with your game and detailed, and I think we did a better job of that tonight," said Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz, who returned to the arena where he played 10 seasons with Minnesota. "Everybody throughout the lineup did that and that's why we got a big win."

The beginning looked all too familiar, though.

An innocent looking dump-in slid to Mason, who tried to cover the puck. The puck went off his stick and Parise quickly poked it past Mason. The Wild had four quality chances early before the Flyers took control.

"They came hard early on in the game and to be able to match that speed; that was a completely different pace of game compared to what we came from in Winnipeg," Mason said. "So, it almost took a second to get your bearings straight to get up to speed."

The Flyers weathered the early flurry by Minnesota, which is safely in playoff position in the West but is facing its own late-season issues. The Flyers killed off both Wild penalties, allowing just two shots on the penalty kill.

Couturier's 12th goal of the season was critical in tying the game with 2:01 left in the first (see feature highlight).

"Coming into the room after the period, I think it's important when you get a big goal like that," captain Claude Giroux said. "You feel like you have the momentum a little bit, so it definitely helped us a lot."

Read provided the lead in the second and the Flyers, who are now 15-2-2 when leading after two periods, pressured in the third. They outshot the Wild, 9-4, in the final period.

"We didn't sit back," Hakstol said. "I thought we were confident with the puck and made some plays and spent a good amount of time in the offensive zone. We played with real confidence in our game."

Mason had been critical after the Flyers lost in Winnipeg on Tuesday, saying the team needed to be more desperate. The Flyers responded Thursday in the difficult position of being on the road and allowing the first goal.

"We knew we had to be better," Schultz said of Mason's comments. "I think on the road, you've got to be at least a .500 team and take care of business at home, and we haven't done that this year. So, obviously, we've got to get better and I think we did respond tonight. Now we have to build on it."