BOSTON – The “win it for [insert veteran NHL player here]” meme isn’t quite as old as the Stanley Cup itself.
But there’s a time-honored tradition of focusing on grizzled veterans in search of their first Stanley Cup once teams travel into the deep of the NHL postseason. It’s a little early for the “Win it for Iggy!” mantra to become the de facto motto for the 2014 Boston Bruins during their postseason run, but there’s also no doubting it’s on the minds of those in Boston’s talented, hockey learned dressing room.
Iginla endeared himself to the Bruins when he punched out Radko Gudas on opening night in October, he became a true member of the team in December when he waved goodbye to his Calgary fans one last time, and now he hopes to enjoy the spoils of his choice to sign in Boston: a long, healthy voyage to the Cup Final with pretty good odds of being the last hockey team standing.
The 36-year-old Iginla, perhaps even more than anybody else, was careful not to get too ahead of himself after coming close to the mountaintop a decade earlier. Iginla led the Calgary Flames to an ultimate Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final just prior to the lockout. Last season Iginla thought he had a chance to capture the Cup after choosing Pittsburgh during least year’s trade deadline, but he had no idea he’d be asked to turn into a third line forward playing the opposite wing on the left side.
That’s neither here nor there, but thinking about the Stanley Cup Final defeat still holds a little bitter and sweet for Iginla.
Actually, more bitter than sweet in the final examination.
“I don’t like to think back to the 7th game. That was probably tough. It was tough hearing the other team celebrate, and being that close you wanted to be the ones out there,” said Iginla. “It was an amazing ride up until then, so the whole experience was positive. But it was tough.
“I’d definitely like to win it. But has it driven me? Look at the guys in here, they want to win. So it’s definitely part of it. I’d definitely like to be on the other side of it because I know [how] the losing feels. Guys here have too. But you just want to experience it, and be a part of it. When you get here that’s what these guys are all about. But that’s a ways off. I’m just trying to stay focused on our first game, and be a part of that.”
Now he knows better, and also tossed what’s personal an unintentional dig at last year’s Penguins group.
“This is as good a chance as I believe I’ve had [to win a Cup]. I’ve been extremely blessed to play as long as I have in the NHL. I have great, great memories. I’m having a great time now,” said Iginla. “I’d love to win with his group. But as far as [a career being] complete [with a Cup], I hope to win a Cup this year and be a part of it. But I also plan on playing next year regardless. But I’d love to win this year.”
Some have made a parallel between winning it for Iginla and the Bruins players’ desire to win the Cup in 2011 knowing they could send Mark Recchi off into retirement in style, but – as Iginla alluded to – this is an entirely different situation. Iginla will get more chances at the Cup as a 36-year-old free to sign with any team he sees fit in the offseason, and he’s also still a formidable force.
Recchi was on the wrong side of 40 years old at the time, and was factoring into games more on courage, guile, toughness and experience rather than skill or speed while providing a key leadership role. Iginla became only the third 30-goal scorer (Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic were the only other ones until Patrice Bergeron reached the 30-goal mark a couple of weeks after Iginla) in seven seasons since Claude Julien took over the Bruins as head coach. He’s still a force to be reckoned with as a top line right wing, and finished third on Boston with 61 points and a plus-34 for the season.
Claude Julien likened it a little bit more to Ray Bourque winning a Cup with the Colorado Avalanche after he was dealt from the Bruins after a Hall of Fame career, and that would seem a bit more apropos. Iginla has 560 goals and 1,167 total points, and has captured multiple gold medals in a career that saw him as the NHL’s prototypical power forward from about 2000-2011.
The Stanley Cup title is probably the only thing left to check on the career accomplishments box when it comes to a Hall of Fame resume-worthy for the six time All-Star, and that’s exactly the position Bourque found himself in with the Avalanche.
“It’s a normal thing. We all remember Ray Bourque here, and when he went to Colorado and they really wanted to win it. But in order to do that for him, you really have got to focus on your game. Focus on what you need to do there,” said Julien. “At the end, you hope that that’s what it takes to get him a Cup, but I don’t want our team just to focus on Iggy [Jarome Iginla]. I don’t think our focus would be going to the right place.
“Let’s focus on what we need to do here to get the goal that we want because we’d like to get it for Iggy. But we’d like to get it for our fans as well, and the rest of the team. It’s a little bit more than that, but he’s certainly one of those people that I think everybody’s going to be cheering for.”
Milan Lucic had posters of Iginla plastered up on his walls growing up as a hockey-loving son of British Columbia, and has readily and numerously admitted this season that skating on a line with Iginla has been a dream come true. Nobody on the Bruins would gladly embrace a “Win it for Iggy” rallying cry, but perhaps he said it best when asked about his counterpart on the right side.
“The type of guy that he’s been, and the things that he’s brought to his hockey club: his experience, his production and his battle and his leadership,” said Lucic. “It’s the kind of person you want to go into this type of situation with. You know he’s got your back. You want to do everything you can to help him [win the Cup], and do whatever you can to take him somewhere that he’s never been before.
“It’s going to have to be a combined effort. Instead of using the word ‘help’ him, we’re going to have to do it with him. It’s going to take everyone. It took everyone to get to the Final last year, and it took everyone to win that Cup in 2011. We know what it takes to get there. Jarome knows what it takes to get there. I’m looking forward to seeing him play because I know he’s excited heading into this one.”
Iginla will be even more excited if he’s a bearded, weary veteran guy hoisting the Stanley Cup over his shaved head two months from now with a Bruins team built for winning in the playoffs.
Moments like that have turned into iconic images for NHL warriors like Bourque, Lanny McDonald, Dave Andreychuk and Rob Brind’Amour over the years. Iginla would be a fitting addition to that lucky group, so a “Win it for Iggy” campaign might just have a future in Boston.