CALGARY, Alberta — The cheers were long and loud, as the ceremonial first puck dropped, the video tribute played, and the players skated to the blue line for the anthems. The man they were cheering, their former captain, raised his stick to the fans that had cheered him for 16 seasons and 525 goals. They didn’t stop.
So Jarome Iginla, No. 12 for the Flames and the Bruins, raised his stick again as he skated in a quick circle, and came to a stop next to his new teammates. His mother raised her camera in the Saddledome stands.
He was home.
“It was definitely emotional,” Iginla said, after the Bruins had taken the 2-1 comeback win. “I really appreciated the fans. It was a cool feeling. It felt special, the ovation at the start, and then you feel funny just standing out there.”
He nearly celebrated with a power-play goal that would have tied the game in the third period. Instead, moments later, David Krejci did the honors, followed by the game-winner by Reilly Smith with just 4:33 to go.
“I wanted to come back and have fun and hoping it would be memorable,” Iginla said. “All the way around it was. It was fun to come back, also, in the third period with the team and play strong and get a win and make it even more special.”
It didn’t start out that way, though. The Bruins slogged through a lackluster first two periods, with just nine shots on goal and few good chances. They looked like victims of the bug that had hit the team on Monday, necessitating a missed practice for four of the Bruins.
“There’s guys battling the flu, you don’t have the energy,” coach Claude Julien said. “You ask them to dump it in and forecheck and everything else. There is that challenge. At the same time, there was no excuse, as we said, to play a better 40 minutes I guess. We didn’t have to be that bad, let’s put it that way.”
Julien added, “Those first two periods were really tough to watch.”
And Calgary had taken advantage, with Jiri Hudler converting on a one-on-one with Dennis Seidenberg that was the result of a bad play by Smith. He slipped the puck past Tuukka Rask from the left side, putting the Flames up, 1-0, at 5:17 of the second period.
“There’s no excuse for that,” Smith said. “We just didn’t play well. We didn’t have enough emotion, didn’t have enough jump. We didn’t have enough hits, weren’t turning pucks over. There were just too many things that went wrong to have a good, solid start to the game.”
The Bruins couldn’t find their rhythm, couldn’t get anything going. There were turnovers and missed chances. Then, as the coach said, “Our true colors came out in the third.”
The Bruins came out strong in the third period, outshooting the Flames, 10-1, in the first half of the third period. But still, nothing.
They had tried to make things simpler, perhaps important with six regulars missing — two defensemen, four forwards, due to injury and suspension — and three call-ups from Providence in the last three days after a sleep-deprived Nick Johnson arrived to join Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser.
It worked. Krejci tied the score at 13:49 after the Flames had taken a delay-of-game penalty. The center tipped home a Torey Krug shot for his sixth goal of the year, giving the Bruins a late chance in a game they seemed ready to lose.
Just 1:38 later, Smith converted on a pretty move up the right side and past a defender, coming in on goalie Reto Berra after a pass from Spooner.
And he celebrated as nicely as he scored, going down to one knee and pumping his fist, a celebration he said he hadn’t done since college.
“First two periods, everything was kind of going the wrong way, so it was good to see it turn around in just a couple of minutes, be able to change the night around,” said Smith.
He laughed when asked if he was trying to steal Iginla’s spotlight.
But there was no doing that.
Afterward, Iginla was named the third star of the game. And while the lights dimmed and the crowd remained, the spotlight returned to the ice, as did Iginla. He took a turn around the ice, and then another, and then another, while the building got as loud as it had earlier.
His teammates, those on the Bruins, came back out to their bench, urged on by captain Zdeno Chara.
“Zee and all the guys came out and wouldn’t let me off the ice,” Iginla said. “I went for one little loop and they’re like, ‘No, no. No, no. You’ve got to go one more.’ And then they made me go one more, too. But it was fun. It was fun and it was nice of the fans. They probably also wanted me off the ice by then, too.”
It sure didn’t seem that way.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.