Jaromir Jagr knows he has dropped a cylinder — or two — since the days he was in Pittsburgh and played hockey as though his hair was on fire. That was when he had a high-octane game that matched his flowing mane and helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.
Now, at 41, his playoff beard speckled with grays, there is nothing remotely “high octane’’ about Jagr’s game. Oh, he still has the quick hands and the savvy and awareness to strike fear into the heart of the opposition when he has the puck in the attacking zone.
But he also knows the 2013 Jagr is not as nimble or possessing the same horsepower or acceleration as the sporty 1991 Jagr model, who seemed to skate circles around his competitors.
“Once you stop learning, you’re kind of dead or you have to quit,’’ said Jagr as he sat at his locker following Saturday morning’s practice at TD Garden, where the Bruins prepared to face the New York Rangers in Sunday’s Game 2 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“I’m learning every day and I’m 41,’’ Jagr said. “The game is changing. The world moves fast. The game is quicker and everything is quicker. If you’re going to stay in the league, you have to find a way to adjust. You cannot play the same game that you did in 1990. You cannot play the same game in 2013.
“It’s impossible, because the players are getting faster, better, quicker, just like everybody else.’’
And while he appeared to skate painfully slowly in the Bruins’ seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, gliding along at a glacial pace when everyone around him moved at break-neck speed, Jagr, who remains the NHL’s active leader in playoff goals (78), assists (115) and points (193), insists he still has plenty left in his tank to help the Bruins in their quest for the Stanley Cup.
“You have to play to your strengths,’’ said Jagr, who has averaged 17:36 of ice time in eight playoff games, scoring four points on four assists. “Obviously, I’m not going to play with those guys, up-and-down hockey. I don’t think I would even have a chance, but I can play another kind of hockey and have a better chance at that.’’
Slowed by an energy-sapping virus that has nagged him since before the playoffs started, Jagr did the one thing that benefited him most in the two-day hiatus from hockey the Bruins earned after their 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1 Thursday night.
“Never got out of bed,’’ Jagr said with a wry smile. “Just slept all day, took my meds, and rested.’’
Jagr is making his 17th NHL playoff appearance in his 19th NHL season. Asked if he was surprised by Jagr’s longevity, Bruins coach Claude Julien replied, “No, because he’s a pretty committed individual.
“He’s dedicated to conditioning and everything else, so not really [surprised]. I think he deserves a lot of credit for keeping himself going that long because it’s certainly by the way he treats his body and how he trains and how he takes care of himself.’’
But Jagr knows he has not been himself. He has not been the player he had hoped he could be for the Bruins when they acquired him April 2 from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Lane MacDermid, unsigned 2012 draft pick Cody Payne, and a conditional 2013 draft pick.
“Well, I’ve played better, that’s for sure,’’ Jagr said with a laugh. “But you never know. I hope I can feel better. I hope I can score more. But that’s the way it is. It’s not the first time and it’s not going to be the last time.
“Everybody can play great when everything is good,’’ he added. “But you’ve got to battle through when things don’t always go your way.’’
Asked if it frustrated him not to be able to score more, Jagr paused.
“It’s not the first time it has happened to me, so you have to work hard,’’ he said. “It doesn’t really matter how many goals you’ve scored before, the confidence builder comes with any play; any good play can give you the confidence. Any good pass that leads to a goal can change everything around, but you have to work hard and you have to go to it.
“I’m not going to give up. Of course, I would love to help this team a little more than I am right now. The only thing I can do about it is just to work hard.’’
Jagr, who registered 14 goals (six on the power play) and 12 assists in 34 games with the Stars for a team-leading 26 points, struggled to record 2-7—9 totals in 11 regular-season contests with the Bruins. In the series against the Maple Leafs, Jagr compiled that 0-4—4 line, earning a promotion to the second line centered by Patrice Bergeron late in the series.
“He’s really helped us a lot, as far as having a guy that is strong on the puck, he’s good down low, cycling pucks and everything else,’’ Julien said. “He’s a threat; every time he’s on the ice you can see teams playing him hard. They put some big guys out there because he is a big body and he’s hard to move.
“He’s been a good addition to us and we moved him up to Bergeron’s line the last couple of games. And that line, whether it’s by coincidence or whatever, has started to produce.’’
Julien, however, disagreed with the notion that the grueling conference quarterfinal against the Leafs seemed to take a toll on Jagr.
“The first round didn’t take a toll on him,’’ Julien countered. “Again, he was tired, maybe a little bit at one point during the game. But he’s had to battle the flu, and I said that a long time ago. He’s not beaten down, he’s certainly not done.
“If the time comes where I see he needs a little bit of a break, I’ll make sure to give it to him, whether it’s practice or skipping some shifts. Right now he seems to feel OK to go and I check with him on those situations. He’s handled it well.’’
Jagr seemed to sputter in Game 1 vs. the Rangers. Julien noted how “at one point in the third, a couple of quick shifts, he looked tired. But then he came back in overtime and had good wheels again.
“So maybe giving him time to recover again a little bit . . . say what you want, he’s not 25 anymore.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.