After all the hype, the smiles, the visits with old friends, the interviews, all the memories, the video tribute, the two-and-a-half minute standing ovation, finally Jarome Iginla got to play a hockey game – the 1,264th of his NHL career and not just a run-of-the-mill, routine night at the office either.
No, this game – Tuesday night, at the Scotiabank Saddledome, his new team, the Boston Bruins, playing his old team, the Calgary Flames – was a little more special. Iginla circled the date when the NHL schedule first came out and knew it would be a big deal. He'd been in games like this before - when former members of the Flames would come back to Calgary for the first time and knew what to expect, sort of, emotionally and otherwise. Flames' coach Bob Hartley was involved in one of these before: As the coach of the Colorado Avalanche, when Raymond Bourque went back to Boston for the first time. Bourque had good focus, the Avalanche won and Hartley's fervent wish was that, on this night, he could beat the Bruins again and spoil Iginla's homecoming.
Didn't happen, but not for a lack of trying.
The Flames were the better team for two periods, but the Bruins have a knack for pulling games out of the fire and they did it again Tuesday night. Two goals in under two minutes, one of them on the power play, and the Bruins ultimately emerged with a 2-1 victory. Iginla was on the ice for the first goal, David Krejci tipping in Torey Krug's shot and it came just after he had nicked one off the post. That's as close as Iginla came to scoring in 20 minutes and 53 seconds of playing time.
Above all else, Iginla wanted a) a win for the Bruins and b) a reputable performance from himself. He got both. His line, along with Krejci and Milan Lucic, was Boston's strongest. Organizationally, the Flames did a good job of welcoming back their former captain. Iginla's father, Elvis, was in the stands, wearing one of his son's all-star jerseys. His mother, Susan, was wearing a Bruins' sweater. The cameras caught them, watching a nicely edited pre-game video about their son's achievements with the Flames, standing and applauding with the rest of the capacity crowd at the Saddledome.
After the game, it was more of the same – Iginla named the third star of the game, even if Krejci was probably Boston's best player and goalie Tuuka Rask a close second.
Still, sometimes it's OK for sentiment to trump reality and the Bruins' players all crowded onto the visiting bench post-game as Iginla circled the ice one more time, to acknowledge the fans, who gave him another standing ovation.
And when Iginla tried to come off, the Bruins wouldn't let him, and sent him out for a second spin around the ice. It was like that. Coach Claude Julien said: "Even for me, it got pretty emotional." Reilly Smith, who scored the game winner, said: "We wanted to do it for him. He's an absolute legend."
Iginla, surrounded by reporters after the game, thanked his current team for their support and his former team for their patience and forbearance during the pre-game ceremony:
"I wanted to come back and have fun and hoped it would be memorable – and all around, it was. It was also fun to come back as a team in the third period and play strong and get a win and make it even more special."
For the longest time, the Bruins weren't on their game. Maybe it was because the flu was going through the team. Four of Boston's regulars missed practice Monday, including defenceman Zdeno Chara, and their overall energy levels seemed low.
Maybe it was because the Bruins were down half-a-dozen starters, some because of injury (Loui Eriksson, Dougie Hamilton, Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, Adam McQuaid), one because of a suspension (Scott Thornton). But they got it going in the third, outshooting Calgary 15-5 and doing just enough against the maddeningly inconsistent Flames to get it done.
For now, the Bruins and Flames are teams going in separate directions. Boston is winning pretty consistently and Calgary's main goal at the moment is to stay ahead of the Edmonton Oilers in the race for last place in the Pacific Division. The Bruins reversed the continuing pattern of this NHL season, where West seems to beat East like a drum on a consistent basis, by taking two points off Calgary. But Edmonton picked up two at Carolina's expense and now the Bruins move on to play the Oilers, another homecoming for Iginla, who was born and raised in St. Albert. Maybe that result will be equally to his liking.
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