Originally created 04/02/00

Penguins lose in Jagr's return



PITTSBURGH -- The Philadelphia Flyers don't have the skaters or the speed of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Never have, never will. And, most of the time, it doesn't matter.

John LeClair and Keith Primeau each scored a goal and set up another and the Flyers proved they can outmuscle the Penguins on the road as well as at home even with Jaromir Jagr playing, winning 3-2 Saturday.

Primeau and Chris Therien scored 4-on-4 in a physical first period and LeClair gave the Flyers a two-goal lead by scoring his 39th of the season in a penalty-filled second period.

The Flyers, 4-0-1 against the Penguins this season, closed within two points of idle New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead. The Penguins, who had won five of six, failed to further separate themselves from Carolina and Montreal in the race for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

"This was important. We're still battling for first in the East and we beat a real good team that's playing on top of their game," LeClair said after the Flyers won in Pittsburgh for only the third time in 22 games since the 1991-92 season. "It was like a playoff game for them because they need the points."

Jagr agreed. The NHL scoring leader played after missing two games with a bruised back caused by a blow delivered by the Flyers' Dan McGillis during Philadelphia's 3-1 victory Sunday. But Jagr didn't score and clearly wasn't sharp, often coming off the ice visibly fatigued.

"We've got four games left, and every game is very important," Jagr said. "Every game now is like a seventh game in the playoffs."

That's why Jagr is playing even while not completely healthy. He was out for a month with a thigh injury that required surgery and a strained hamstring, and still hasn't regained his game legs.

"I didn't skate for almost a month, then I played two games and then I didn't play for a week," Jagr said. "Even if I feel OK, the power's not there in the legs."

Jagr, trying to win his fourth scoring title, was credited with three shots in 20' minutes, including a shot off the crossbar during a power play with 2:30 left.

Earlier in the period, Jagr got open on the right side. Instead of trying to outskate his defender, he pulled up and tried to shoot, only to lose the puck.

"Maybe my speed was a problem," Jagr said. "Maybe, if I'm healthy, he doesn't catch me."

Just as they did Sunday, the Flyers relied on their size and physical style to limit the Penguins' scoring chances and control the tempo. Especially with Jagr hurting, the Penguins couldn't force the Flyers into an up-and-down game that would favor their playmakers.

"They want to clutch and grab, slow it down and we want to play up tempo," Penguins defenseman Bob Boughner said. "We want to control the game and use our speed. We got caught up in their game."

The Penguins seized a 1-0 lead with 31 seconds gone as Martin Straka scored on a breakaway for the first of his two goals. Straka, who has 20 goals, also scored at 12:37 of the second, beating Flyers goalie Brian Boucher at a tough angle from along the goal line to make it 3-2.

But each time Straka scored, the Flyers toughened up defensively and relied on their muscle to force the play in a game in which 15 penalties -- mostly for roughing or holding -- were called in the first two period.

"We've got to keep it up, somehow," said Boucher, who turned aside 21 of 23 shots. "We played desperate, and we did a great job."

The two 4-on-4 goals shifted the momentum.

Penguins goalie Ron Tugnutt, starting despite a 1-7-2 career record against Philadelphia because of wins over Washington and New Jersey earlier in the week, came out of the net to play LeClair's shot, which bounced into the unprotected crease for a Primeau tap-in at 12:21.

Later in the period, Therien scored his fourth of the season on another 4-on-4 at 18:27.

LeClair scored what proved the deciding goal 51 seconds into the second period, wheeling around the net and throwing a backhander by Tugnutt.

"That's his play, that's his shot, from behind the net," Boughner said.

By losing, the Penguins (34-36-8) missed a chance to reach .500 for the first time in three months. Of their final four games, only one is in Pittsburgh, Monday against Carolina.