TAMPA, Fla. Jaromir Jagr scored three times last night to give him 500 for his career. More importantly, the Washington Capitals smothered Tampa Bay 5-1 and increased their Southeast Division lead to five points over the Lightning.
Jagr, who will be 31 in less than two weeks, became the 33rd player in league history to score 500 goals. He did it in 928 games, among the quickest to accomplish the feat.
But putting some space between the club and its closest competitor in the division was the most important thing for the Caps. Tampa Bay had been the division leader for much of the season until Washington overtook the Lightning on Jan.5 for the division lead.
“We made mention before the game that it just wasn’t one of 82,” Caps coach Bruce Cassidy said. “There was a lot at stake, but we didn’t want to put too much pressure on them in case it didn’t work out.
“I think the thing I liked best was our start I don’t think we gave up a shot for the first 10 minutes. The big guy took over. Our power play took over in the second period, and our best players outplayed their best players. That was the difference in the game.”
But the individual story of the night was Jagr, who scored the first three goals of the game and assisted on the fourth.
“He feels good,” linemate Kip Miller said. “He’s playing well. He’s playing with confidence. We needed it. It’s a big game, and that’s why we look up to him. He’s showing that he’s the best.”
What makes him among the best is the fact he has scored 500 goals but has only 11 hat tricks. His production is spread out.
“I didn’t even think about it,” Jagr said when asked whether he was relieved to get the milestone out of the way. “I knew I was pretty close, but if I stay healthy I feel I got a lot more years to play.
“But I’m glad we won. It was a big game for us, and that was the most important thing. They were pretty close, but with the win we are five points ahead. That’s huge. We got a long way to go, but it always helps.”
Jagr is the first player to score 500 goals while wearing a Washington uniform. Only 16 players have scored that many goals in less than 1,000 games.
In order, Jagr’s historic scores went like this:
498 7:27, first: Jagr was the trailer on a play in which a screen developed in front of goalie John Grahame before the puck was passed back to the right wing. He calmly snapped off a wrist shot into the screen, and Grahame was the last to know.
499 3:46, second: Jagr was deep in the slot when he got the puck from Miller. He twirled and snapped off another wrist shot, this time beating Grahame in the lower left corner of the net.
500 7:19, second: On a power play, Jagr accepted a pass from Sergei Gonchar. Along the right boards, the wing blasted a slap shot high into the right side of the cage, just missing Grahame’s left elbow. It came on Washington’s 10th shot of the game.
The outburst increased the number of goals Jagr has scored against Tampa Bay to 25 in 42 games. He added his 25th career assist against the Lightning and now has 50 points vs. Tampa Bay.
A little more than a minute after Jagr completed his hat trick, Peter Bondra got into the act. While still on a power play, Bondra started down the left side from his power-play point position. Miller sent a pass through the crease, and the wing hammered it past Grahame for his 21st of the season and Washington’s fourth goal in less than 29 minutes, all on just 11 shots. Jagr got the second assist, his fourth point of the night.
Coach John Tortorella then made the signal that was by that time fully expected Grahame was en route to the showers, and Nikolai Khabibulin was in net. Tortorella’s gamble with the relative newcomer from Boston had failed.
Less than five minutes later Khabibulin tasted the Caps’ ire. Facing his third shot since coming off the bench, Mike Grier easily tapped a Bondra rebound back through the goalie and into the net. It was Grier’s 13th of the season and Washington’s third of the night on the power play.
Olie Kolzig’s perfect night ended at 17:42 of the second when Fredrik Modin, who seems to score every time he faces the Washington netminder, ripped one in off Kolzig’s left knee.