By HOWARD BERGER
PHILADELPHIA (Oct. 24) – The most bizarre aspect of Monday night’s hockey game at the Wells Fargo Center was not lost on the 39-year-old that brought yesteryear to life.
“I don’t remember the last time I had three breakaways in a game… it must have been like 10 years ago,” shrugged Jaromir Jagr amid a swarm of media in the dressing room, moments after his two-goal effort helped Philadelphia Flyers upend the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-2. “It brought back some memories for me.”
Indeed, this was a vintage performance by the Czech native – arguably the best hockey player on Earth through the decade of the ’90s. His prime years with the Pittsburgh Penguins – riding shot-gun with Mario Lemieux – harvested consecutive Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and ’92; seven first-team All Star selections; five Art Ross Trophies as the NHL’s leading scorer and one Hart Trophy as MVP. Included, was a remarkable 62 goals and 87 assists for 149 points in 1995-96. Proof of Jagr’s staying power was a 123-point gem with the New York Rangers ten years (and nine seasons) later.
Absent from the NHL for the past three years while skating for Avangard Omsk of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, Jagr signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in June. He hadn’t yet scored a goal in his return to North America until the Leafs arrived in town. Perhaps considering him no longer capable of dictating a game, Jagr was allowed to slip behind Toronto defenders for three solo breaks – two of which he scored on; another was stopped neatly by the pad of Jonas Gustavsson.
Moments after David Steckel brought the visitors to within a goal (3-2) in the third period, Jagr maneuvered into the clear once again and iced the victory with a backhand deke. As if to pour salt on the wound, Philly’s other two goals – by Scott Hartnell – were also Nos. 1 and 2 on the season. Rather than capitalizing on a team that played horribly at home against St. Louis two nights earlier – and then lost its defensive warhorse, Chris Pronger, to an accidental high-stick from Mikhail Grabovski in the opening period – the Leafs were mostly on their heels during this encounter and now need a victory in New York Thursday night to return with a split of their four-game road trip.
My photos from the Leafs and Flyers here in Philadelphia:
THE WELLS FARGO CENTER (ABOVE) AT DUSK, 45 MINUTES BEFORE GAME-TIME.
LAUREN HART, THE BEST-KNOWN ANTHEM-SINGER IN THE NHL, URGES ON THE CROWD AFTER HER RENDITIONS OF O CANADA AND THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER.
THERE IS ALWAYS A RABID ENVIRONMENT HERE IN PHILLY BEFORE THE PUCK IS DROPPED TO BEGIN A HOCKEY GAME. THE FLYERS CROWD CAN ALSO TURN ON THE HOME TEAM AS QUICKLY AS ANY IN THE LEAGUE.
JONAS GUSTAVSSON ENDURED A COUPLE OF HARRIED MOMENTS IN THE SECOND PERIOD WHEN HE DROPPED HIS GOAL-STICK (ABOVE) AFTER A COLLISION WITH FLYERS’ MAXIME TALBOT. GUSTAVSSON FACED A QUICK BARRAGE OF SHOTS, BUT MANAGED TO HOLD PHILLY OFF THE BOARD.
LIFE WASN’T A LOT MORE PEACHY WHEN “THE MONSTER” HAD HIS STICK, THANKS TO HULKING WAYNE SIMMONDS – THE FORMER LOS ANGELES KINGS FORWARD – WHO DID EVERYTHING (ABOVE AND BELOW) TO BLOCK THE LEAF GOALIE’S VIEW.
PHILADELPHIA PRESSURE ULTIMATELY WORE DOWN GUSTAVSSON AND THE LEAFS: SCOTT HARTNELL (ABOVE) IS CONGRATULATED BY TEAMMATES AFTER SCORING HIS SECOND GOAL OF THE NIGHT.
BY COMPARISON, FLYERS’ BACK-UP GOALIE, SERGEI BOBROVSKY (ABOVE), OFTEN HAD A PHALANX OF TEAMMATES PROTECTING HIS CREASE FROM THE OPPOSITION.
PRESS BOX AT THE WELLS FARGO CENTER IS NAMED IN MEMORY OF LAUREN HART’S FATHER – GENE HART – ORIGINAL VOICE OF THE FLYERS, WHO CALLED THEIR CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUP VICTORIES IN 1974 AND ’75.
DO NOT COVER A GAME HERE IF YOU’RE TRYING TO WATCH YOUR WEIGHT. BETWEEN THE SKITTLES; M & Ms AND REESE’S PIECES (ABOVE) – AND THE UNLIMITED SOFT PRETZELS (BELOW) IN THE SHAPE OF THE FLYERS LOGO – YOU HAVE NO CHANCE.
THERE WERE PAINED EXPRESSIONS ON THE VISITORS’ BENCH (ABOVE) IN THE THIRD PERIOD UNTIL DAVID STECKEL SCORED TO CUT INTO THE FLYERS 3-1 LEAD (BELOW).
DANNY BRIERE (ABOVE) ENJOYED A HOPEFUL MOMENT WHEN STECKEL’S GOAL WENT TO VIDEO REVIEW, BUT IT WAS QUICKLY SANCTIONED BY THE “WAR ROOM” IN TORONTO.
JAROMIR JAGR TURNS AWAY (ABOVE) AFTER ENDING THE SUSPENSE WITH HIS SECOND BREAKAWAY GOAL OF THE NIGHT, PROVIDING PHILADELPHIA ITS MARGIN OF VICTORY.
THE CLOCK WINDS DOWN (ABOVE) ON THE LEAFS SECOND REGULATION-TIME LOSS OF THE SEASON… THE CLUB IS NOW 5-2-1.
JAGR IS ENVELOPED BY A MEDIA HORDE (ABOVE) AFTER THE GAME IN THE FLYERS DRESSING ROOM; HE ANSWERED QUESTIONS FROM LOCAL REPORTERS (BELOW) BEFORE ACCOMMODATING A CZECH TV STATION.
SCOTTY HARTNELL ALSO HAD REASON TO SMILE (ABOVE) AFTER SCORING HIS FIRST TWO GOALS OF THE 2011-12 NHL SEASON.