BOSTON — During the Stanley Cup playoffs, emotions are raw and usually materialize in the way of adrenaline-fueled acts of violence. This postseason has featured more attacks to the male reproductive organ than an episode of America's Funniest Home Videos, collateral damage from a sport that combines those excitations and physical aggressiveness like no other.
Yet sometimes, only on the rarest of occasions, love gets the best of hate.
Jarome Iginla scored in overtime of Game 4 to give the Boston Bruins a 3-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings in a first-round series the Bruins would clinch two days later. The Bruins were down 2-0 at one point in the game, which featured Brad Marchand missing two nets.
In the celebration pile after the overtime goal, Marchand planted a kiss on Iginla, partly out of a sense of relief the Bruins won the game despite his misses and perhaps partly out of the respect Iginla has earned in his first full season with a team other than the Calgary Flames.
"Talking to Iggy after the game," Marchand said, "just how many opportunities good goal scorers miss every year where you feel like you have sure goals. And then you get goals where you pick small little pockets. Hearing that from one of the best goal scorers ever, that’s relieving and you can learn a lot from guys like that."
The NHL's top teams almost always boast a strong leadership corps, and the Bruins are no different in that regard. It has been forged over years but became particularly strong since 2011, with the Bruins reaching the Stanley Cup Final twice in three seasons and poised to do so again this year.
"When you have Tuukka, Z, Bergy, Looch, Krech, those guys have all been through it before here and they're pretty big players on our team," Shawn Thornton said of Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and David Krejci in mostly hockey nickname terminology.
Noticeably absent from that list is Iginla, who is not part of this team's leadership corps—yet at the same time he is. Iginla wore the "C" in Calgary for nearly a decade, yet has not even worn an "A" at any point during his first season with he Bruins. That's how Iginla prefers it, though—he wants to defer to the veterans in the Bruins locker room and be respectful of what they've accomplished, but he isn't shy about picking his spots when he feels it's necessary.
After 16 seasons as the face of the Flames, standing before the media on an almost daily basis to take the heat for losses and missing the playoffs during his final four seasons in Calgary, Iginla is happy to recede into the background, simply play hockey and let the established leaders in Boston speak for the team. After all, he's still in pursuit of his first Stanley Cup and is surrounded by players who won it in 2011 and fell two wins shy of another in 2013.
"A lot of the guys here, they won together," Iginla said. "I enjoyed it in Calgary too, but here, it's definitely where a lot of guys share that lead and it's been impressive to be around them and see how they work."
Iginla has done most of his leading by example this season. In the last 12 seasons in which the 36-year-old has played at least 45 games, Iginla has totaled 30 goals or more. He tied for the team lead in goals (30) with Bergeron and finished third on the team in points with 61. Iginla was the right wing on the Bruins' most productive offensive line with left wing Lucic (24 goals, 59 points) and center Krejci (19 goals, 69 points).
What makes Iginla's statistics especially impressive is he still found a way to reach 30 goals playing about two minutes fewer per night than he played during his final few years with the Flames. As a star player on a poor Flames team, Iginla had to carry the scoring load. But with a deep Bruins squad that rolls four lines, Iginla hasn't suffered at all from less playing time.
During the playoffs, he's tied for second on the team in goals with three.
Claude Julien, who has kept the Lucic-Krejci-Iginla line together for nearly the entire season, said it's been a dream coaching him, even if he's been asked a million times about it this season: "I think I’ve heard this exact same question already … thought I was having a déjà vu there."
|Longest-Tenured Boston Bruins|
|Player||First season w/Boston||2013-14 statistics|
|Patrice Bergeron||2003-04||30 goals, 32 assists|
|David Krejci||2006-07||19 G, 50 A|
|Zdeno Chara||2007-08||17 G, 23 A|
|Milan Lucic||2007-08||24 G, 35 A|
|Shawn Thornton||2007-08||5 G, 3 A|
|Tuukka Rask||2007-08||36-15-6, 2.04/.930|
"But the thing about Jarome is he’s just the ultimate team player. He’s all about team, he leads by example, he’s a hard worker, he’s a committed player. No matter what age he is at, he continues to be a physical player, he continues to be a player that competes hard every night. I don’t think I can tell you honestly that there was a game this season that I’ve said Jarome just really isn’t there."
"It doesn’t mean that he had all great games but his compete level is always there. And I’ve said that before, I think what he has done is made that line better this year just with his consistency. He has pushed the other two guys (Lucic and Krejci) to be more consistent."
Iginla is just another cog in the Bruins machine, essentially filling the role vacated by the departure of Nathan Horton to free agency last summer. The Bruins made a lot moves in the offseason to shed salary with a plummeting salary cap threatening to derail or at least slow the train. Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley were shipped to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith in an effort to remain competitive and cap compliant.
The 2013-14 Presidents' Trophy is proof it worked, and having Eriksson and Smith spend a season with Iginla could have long-term benefits as well.
"He’s been in this league for a long time," Eriksson said. "He’s such a great leader and he always brings everything he has every game and you can definitely learn a lot from him."
The 23-year-old Smith had an excellent first season in Boston with 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games. Like any young player, there are always valleys during a season, and Smith had a particularly deep one when he had two goals over his final 29 regular-season games. Smith found the back of the net in his second career playoff game, as he scored the winner in Boston's 4-2 victory in Game 2 against the Red Wings. He has two goals in four games against the Montreal Canadiens.
It's not that Iginla offered a magical pep talk to Smith to correct his game like something out of a Disney movie, but having him around this season has been beneficial for the Bruins on the ice and off of it.
"It can be little things or big things, but every little bit, especially hearing it from a guy like Jarome Iginla, it sticks with you and you make sure to implement that into your game," Smith said. "If you’re going through droughts, keep shooting the puck and stuff like that. Sometimes it’s simple, sometimes it’s a little more complex. Getting tidbits from Jarome Iginla, you always seem to listen."
Iginla is a 30-goal scorer who essentially serves as a part-time leadership consultant on a team loaded with experienced veterans. It's just one of the many reasons the Bruins are going to be a tough out for the Montreal Canadiens in the second round—and anyone who stands in the way over the rest of the playoffs.
The Bruins and Iginla agreed to a bonus-laden one-year contract last summer but have yet to come together on a contract for next season and beyond. Considering his value on the ice and in the locker room, perhaps general manager Peter Chiarelli will be compelled to pull a Marchand and seal a new contract with a kiss.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.
All statistics via NHL.com.
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