44-year-old doesn’t sound like he’s ready to retire
NEW YORK — Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr certainly didn’t sound like a player ready to call it a career, even after his season had ended in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Sunday.
Instead, the 44-year-old appeared even more determined and focused on remaining a part of this young, energetic Panthers team that established franchise records for wins and points this season. He was no doubt proud to be a part of it all.
The Islanders won the best-of-7 series 4-2 after a second straight 2-1 double-overtime victory against the Panthers.
“I hadn’t played in the playoffs the past few years and even at my age, you’re still learning,” Jagr said. “If I come back, I know I’ll be ready. I have to practice differently. I want to play, that’s for sure. But I have to be more ready, I know that.”
Jagr was actually playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012-13, when he was a member of the Boston Bruins. He had two assists in six games against the Islanders, but has gone without a goal in 37 straight playoff games.
Jagr’s last playoff goal came as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers in an 8-5 win against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round on April 13, 2012. He is fifth on the NHL’s all-time playoff scoring list with 201 points, including 78 goals.
“Sure it’s frustrating that I didn’t score, but I will always fight to the end,” Jagr said.
The Panthers certainly fought to the end, despite losing in six games to the Islanders. The Atlantic Division champions outplayed the Islanders for much of the series but in the end were denied by goaltender Thomas Greiss and an incredibly determined captain in John Tavares.
“The guys played their tails off [Sunday] and in every single game,” defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “You can see it in everybody’s faces; how hard we worked. Unfortunately it’s a learning experience for us and it’s a tough pill to swallow. To make a better player maybe everyone has to go through this, go through the burn, the feel the achiness and to know how true and hard it is to win that Stanley Cup.
“Guys will go home with a sour taste in their mouth and come back next year ready to go even harder.”
That was the prevailing theme during the postgame interviews.
The Panthers last reached the Stanley Cup in 1996 with a team built on experience and veteran savvy. This year’s group was built on youth, with a tinge of veteran leadership. General manager Dale Tallon took over in 2010 and began creating a new foundation via the draft. His first pick was Gudbranson, who was taken with the No. 3 pick in Los Angeles.
“There were a lot of guys who received their first playoff series experience and playoff hockey is different hockey,” Jagr said. “We can learn from that being we have so many young guys. Sometimes you need to lose that way to win it the next year.”
Coach Gerard Gallant was pleased with the performances of the young players having big roles throughout the lineup. The Panthers had nine players make their playoff debut in this series, including forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Garrett Wilson, Greg McKegg and Rocco Grimaldi, and defensemen Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic and Michael Matheson.
“They’ll hurt tonight [after losing the series] but it was a great learning experience for all the young kids,” Gallant said. “I’m proud of the fact we never quit. Nobody picked us to finish first in the Atlantic and we had 103 points and came a long way. Anybody who knows our hockey team knows the character and how good we’ll be for the next couple of years. That’s the positive. Sure it doesn’t feel too good, but we’re hopeful with this team.”
Gallant said it is entirely in the hands of management whether Jagr comes back for another season with the Panthers.
“We’ll see what happens,” Gallant said. “I have nothing to do with contracts or negotiations, so we’ll see what happens over the summer.”