An April 16 tweet from ESPN Boston reporter Joe McDonald relayed Lucic’s take on the 17-season NHL veteran’s incentive to attain a long-awaited Stanley Cup as follows: “We want to do it WITH him, not HELP him.”
Eight nights later, the Bruins raised a 3-1 upper hand in their first-round series with the Detroit Red Wings. They stamped their third victory by virtue of a somewhat serendipitous sudden-death strike off Iginla’s twig.
In the 14th minute of the first overtime, Iginla chipped defenseman Dougie Hamilton’s shot from the far faceoff circle. From there, the puck cleared three bodies on the porch to enter the Detroit net, giving the Bruins a 3-2 victory after they initially confronted a 2-0 deficit.
That gave Boston’s regular-season goal-scoring leader his first tally in the 2014 tournament. It also accelerated the team’s hopes of not only repressing the Red Wings, but doing so with minimal delay.
If actions speak louder than words, then Iginla reaping that reward in Thursday’s Game 4 trumped all exclamation points. His appetite for a title punctuates the mission for a core of holdovers from the franchise’s 2011 championship.
By helping the Bruins reach the brink of a first-round triumph rather than a 2-2 bind, he is living up to Lucic’s aforementioned preference. The team is starting to strengthen its stranglehold with its specimen of unfulfilled veteran presence.
Granted, the shot that constituted Iginla’s 2014 postseason icebreaker and Game 4 clincher hardly qualified as a textbook “goal scorer’s goal.”
Both of Boston’s brawny first-line wingers were starting to form a multilayered screen in front of goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.
Iginla, facing the puck-carrying point-patroller Hamilton, helped the blueliner’s bid home on a pinball path. Replays confirmed that the biscuit biffed Detroit defenseman Danny DeKeyser en route to the net.
But that deflection was the culmination of a half-minute of old fashion grinding, puck pursuit and puck movement. At the exact 13-minute mark of the bonus period, Iginla nabbed a fugitive rebound in the right corner of the Detroit zone.
When David Krejci could not quite absorb his lateral feed in the slot, Iginla entered the ensuing battle along the boards. With Wings forward Drew Miller shadowing him, he extracted the puck and broke loose after handing it off to Krejci.
Iginla took off for the far faceoff circle while Krejci fed Hamilton, whose shot parented Iginla’s goal at 13:32.
To compound the significance, that sequence was not the first grind of its kind on the part of Iginla’s line Thursday night. When recapping the game with 98.5 The Sports Hub late-night host Adam Jones, Bruins play-by-play announcer Dave Goucher observed as much.
In Goucher’s words, as transcribed by CBS Boston:
That line had to be heard from; they had been a dominant line for the Bruins all year long and really didn’t have much going through the first three games of the series and the first two periods in Game 4. The third period, and especially the overtime, it was a different story. That overtime goal was the kind of shift we’re used to seeing from them when they’re on their game.
Of the nine shots on net Iginla, Krejci and Lucic combined to record Thursday, five came in the third period. Another three, including a pair off Iginla’s twig, occurred in overtime.
With some of the chances they cultivated, they could have had more shots within the first 10 minutes of the sudden-death stanza. Their shifts in the seventh and 10th minutes stood out, in particular.
After Iginla unleashed a 42-foot snap shot at 6:23, Hamilton and Krejci reversed a fleeting counterattack and set up a straightaway attempt by Zdeno Chara. DeKeyser blocked that bid out of play at 6:40, but the wingers were setting up to dig for a rebound if it became available.
One shift later, around the nine-minute mark, Iginla placed himself along the right post of the Red Wings cage. There, he fell short on a spontaneous faceoff with Kyle Quincey for Hamilton’s rebound while Gustavsson scrambled to plug a gaping net.
Come what may, goals by Lucic and Iginla served to bookend those eight first-line stabs following the second intermission. With those connections, the Bruins flip-flopped a 2-1 deficit after 40 minutes into the 3-2 victory.
New England puckheads must have expected nothing less from those players in those situations. Krejci and Lucic have already established themselves as playoff connoisseurs, even if it sometimes takes them a few games to regain that form.
The addition of Iginla this season should only enhance the top troika’s instinct to accelerate when decisive situations loom. It did just that on Thursday when little separated a 2-2 deadlock from a favorable 3-1 gap in the series.
The fact that the Bruins are coming off a run to last year’s Stanley Cup Final underscores the importance of whittling wins without delay in the 2014 playoffs. Brimful willpower will likely go moot if residual wear and tear takes a toll on such key holdovers as Chara and goaltender Tuukka Rask.
The best way to minimize the cumulative physical toll is to shorten the early rounds of the current playoff run. Iginla’s hustle and precision in Thursday’s overtime has put the Bruins in a position to foster that habit.
With that position comes an opportunity to redo the near-flop that befell last year’s opening round versus Toronto. One may recall that the Bruins entered Game 5 of that series at home and on the heels of an overtime marker via Krejci. They ultimately needed a three-goal rally and overtime in Game 7 to secure their victory.
Educational growth for the returnees and Iginla’s active hunger will be imperative to closing out the Wings on Boston’s first try. The latter factor got a favorable start Thursday by bringing the Bruins within tasting distance of their first major stride of the spring.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.