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Iginla helps key Penguins' playoff drive

by DHIREN MAHIBAN New York Times News Service on May 24, 2013 11:00 AM

OTTAWA, Ontario — With only two goals in nine games entering Wednesday, Jarome Iginla was causing some to wonder when he would find the back of the net again.

Iginla answered his critics in Game 4, scoring twice as the Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the Ottawa Senators, 7-3. His line, which included James Neal and Evgeni Malkin, combined for five points.

The Penguins, who have a 3-1 series lead, can eliminate the Senators in Game 5 tonight at home.

Iginla, acquired from the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline, has nine goals and 14 assists in 23 games with the Penguins.

When he decided to waive his no-trade clause, Iginla pointed to the opportunity to play with two of the best players in the world, Sidney Crosby and Malkin.

Nearly two months later, Iginla, formerly the face of the Flames, is enjoying a new role.

“It’s been a good adjustment,” he said. ”There’s a lot of go-to guys here, and there’s a lot of firepower.”

He added, “We’re focused, we believe we can be a really good team and ultimately win, and it’s been a fun battle so far.”

Iginla, 35, led Calgary to the Stanley Cup finals once in his 16 seasons with the Flames, losing in Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. A six-time All-Star, Iginla led the league in goals in the 2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons. Having spent his career in the Western Conference, Iginla tried to play down the transition to the Eastern Conference, but he said, “Part of it is you don’t know all the players as well, the tendencies of some of the younger guys and such.”

Iginla was one of three veteran players acquired by Penguins general manager Ray Shero before the deadline, joining defenseman Douglas Murray and forward Brenden Morrow. Iginla said the fact that he was not the only new face on the team made the transition easier on him.

Iginla, the former Calgary captain, does not wear a letter on his Penguins jersey, but Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma still sees his leadership qualities.

“He has come into our dressing room, and I think in real quiet and subtle ways he has been a leader for our group,” Bylsma said. ”I think even more so he’s got a quiet, calm confidence about him, an easiness about him even in the quest to go about winning hockey games here in the playoffs.”

Asked recently what he remembered of Iginla as a captain of the Flames, Bylsma, who played nine seasons in the NHL, said, “I only experienced Jarome as a captain in Calgary on the ice, against him, which wasn’t that pleasant of an experience for me.”

Iginla did not find it strange to play for someone he had battled on the ice, pointing to a situation as a youngster in Calgary as being more awkward.

“I played with Dave Gagner my rookie year, and then when we play against his son Sam, that’s a little weirder than the coach one,” he said, laughing.

Over his career, Iginla developed a reputation as being a fierce competitor who was not afraid to drop his gloves and fight once in a while. His Penguins teammate Tanner Glass, a former Vancouver Canuck, knows too well what it was like playing against Iginla during heated Northwest Division battles.

“I played a lot against him in the past, and he was a tough guy to play against,” Glass said. “He’s a big, strong, physical guy and he obviously has great skills, too. Iggy’s playing really well here, and he’s a big part of our puzzle.”

Iginla will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. His Calgary home was recently put up for sale. It is uncertain, with the salary cap coming down, whether he will re-sign in Pittsburgh, but for now, Iginla is focused on the one thing that has eluded him his entire career: the Stanley Cup.

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