PITTSBURGH -- Jaromir Jagr isn't misled by that ''C'' on his Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. He understands whose team this is.
''This is Mario's team,'' Jagr said. ''He's the man, and we've got to follow whatever he says.''
So, as Jagr closes in on a fifth NHL scoring championship -- only one fewer than teammate-owner-friend Mario Lemieux -- and his fourth in a row, there is no question who will lead the Penguins into the playoffs next week.
And it's not just because Lemieux also owns the team.
''Mario is going to be the guy,'' Jagr said. ''He's the best, and I've got to follow whatever he says. It doesn't matter if I have the C. Whatever he says, we're going to do.''
It's evident what Lemieux means to the Penguins, and not just because they sold out all 24 of his home games, generating $3.5 million in revenue they didn't expect when the season began.
When Lemieux plays, the Penguins are 26-12-3-1; without them, they are dead-even .500. With Lemieux healthy and motivated for the playoffs, Jagr hasn't been this optimistic since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992.
Not only do the Penguins have an unrivaled stable of scorers -- Jagr, Lemieux, Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka, Robert Lang -- they also have successfully bought into the left-wing lock defensive scheme installed recently by coach Ivan Hlinka.
With five wins in six games going into contests at Philadelphia on Saturday and Carolina on Sunday, they would seem to be peaking at the right time. The only loss was when Lemieux sat out Monday against the Islanders.
The Penguins also have shown the ability to raise their level of play to the opposition's, going 3-1-1 against New Jersey, 3-1 against Philadelphia, 2-1-1 against Ottawa and 3-1 against Buffalo.
''I've got a lot of confidence with the playoffs coming. We've still got a lot of everything left,'' Jagr said. ''We've got some important games coming, and we've been able to lift our game when we play the better teams. The more motivated we are, the better we play.''
Lemieux also expects the Penguins to advance deep into the postseason.
''I'll be ready for the next two months,'' he said. ''I expect this team to surprise a lot of teams in the playoffs.''
Jagr led the Penguins to playoff upset of top-seeded New Jersey in 1999 and second-seeded Washington a year ago. However, they stalled in the second round both times, losing to Philadelphia 4-2 last year after winning the first two games.
''But I think this year, with the way the second line is playing and Mario coming back, the pressure on me to score goals is not that big,'' said Jagr, whose two goals Wednesday against Tampa Bay gave him his second 50-goal season. ''That's better for me and I can concentrate more on the little things. There won't be as much pressure on me to score for us to win.''
Jagr discounts that the Penguins probably will be sixth seeded in the Eastern Conference, pointing out they were seeded similarly in 1991 and 1992, too.
''I just have a lot more confidence, I've got a lot of great players playing with me this year,'' he said.
Good enough to win the cup?
''Mario's the greatest player to ever play the game,'' Jagr said. ''He knows the way how to win it.''
And this might be the last chance for Lemieux and Jagr to win a cup together.
With Kovalev, Straka and Lang unsigned for next year, the Penguins probably can't afford to re-sign them and pay Jagr's $10 million salary, too.
''If they decide to trade me or not, that's their decision, and I understand that,'' Jagr said. ''It's a business. If they decide to keep me, I'm going to be happy. If they don't, I understand that. I'm always going to love this organization.''
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