WASHINGTON — Chop busting is the lifeblood of an NHL dressing room. Giving teammates the business comes as naturally as tying skates or taping sticks.
So after Saturday’s 4-2 win over Washington, a game in which Jarome Iginla hit the 30-goal mark and also put his name alongside Guy Lafleur’s, the jabs flew like arrows.
Shawn Thornton cracked that he needed Iginla’s services as a shooting coach. Chris Kelly asked why it took so long for Iginla to reach 30 goals. Johnny Boychuk wondered if Iginla had scored 30 goals for 12 straight seasons.
Iginla, who scored twice in the win, responded like he does to everything in hockey. He smiled.
“It’s been a fun year,” Iginla said. “It’s been fun to win games, be battling at the top of the league, be on some streaks as a group, and to see them go in, too. It’s definitely been fun.”
Iginla now has 560 career goals, tied with Lafleur for 24th on the all-time list. With his second strike on Saturday, Iginla hit the 30-goal mark for the 12th time in his career.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Patrice Bergeron said. “He’s been doing that his whole career. That consistency is hard to do. He works hard. He’s a terrific teammate and an even better player.”
Iginla and the Bruins have been a better fit than a Zegna suit. From his hard-nosed approach to his heat-seeking shot to his perpetual grin, Iginla has been a perfect replacement for, if not improvement upon, Nathan Horton. They play similar styles. Both meshed well with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
A slow start (three goals in his first 16 games) was the only valley in Iginla’s game. Iginla is atop a mountain now. The 36-year-old has two-goal efforts in four of the last eight games. They haven’t been cheap ones, either.
Iginla opened the scoring in the second period. The Bruins killed off a slashing penalty on Carl Soderberg, and once Soderberg left the box, he gained control of the puck and spotted Iginla sprinting through the middle. After taking a saucer pass from Soderberg, Iginla pulled away from Tom Wilson and beat Braden Holtby (32 saves) at 2:48.
The Bruins grabbed a 2-0 lead at 7:35 with a power-play goal. Jason Chimera got a piece of Bergeron’s one-timer. But Soderberg, rooted in front of the net, settled the puck and backhanded it past Holtby.
Forty-one seconds later, Iginla struck again. The Bruins triggered the play with a crisp neutral-zone regroup. Zdeno Chara went D-to-D to Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton whipped the puck up the wall. All of a sudden, Iginla and Lucic had a two-on-two rush.
Holtby stopped Iginla’s bad-angle shot from the right wing, but Iginla never gave up on the puck. After Holtby burped out a rebound, Iginla fought past Patrick Wey and put the puck into the net at 8:16, giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead.
Iginla’s total: 10 attempted shots, four on net, two behind Holtby in 15:59 of ice time. In other words, exactly what the Bruins wanted from their top-line right wing.
“He’s even-keeled no matter what,” said coach Claude Julien. “Even when he didn’t score at the beginning of the year, you didn’t see panic. You saw a guy coming to work every day with a smile on his face and being happy to be part of the group. There was no stress. He just kept working. Even when he wasn’t scoring, you were seeing him throw his weight around. You were seeing him drop the gloves. He was always doing something to help this team out. His work ethic has been great from start to finish. Now his goal scoring, once it picked up, has been our best.”
Washington, desperate for one of the two wild-card spots in the East, got a break with 10 ticks left in the second. The Bruins lost an offensive-zone faceoff and gave the Capitals an easy breakout. Mike Green’s pass ticked off Boychuk’s stick and hit Chad Johnson’s pad. Johnson couldn’t recover to keep Chimera’s follow-up out of the net.
The Capitals pushed their hardest in the third. They were roaring on the attack, forcing Andrej Meszaros to take a holding the stick penalty at 6:30. The Capitals kept the hammer down on the power play but couldn’t score.
Then at 11:40, Alex Ovechkin torpedoed his team’s rally by taking a charging penalty on Loui Eriksson. Bergeron scored on the power play. The only gasp Washington managed was a last-minute goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov after a Johnson giveaway.
“For the most part, we kept them on the outside. That’s the way you’ve got to play them,” said Julien. “You’ve got to stay out of the box as much as you can. They’ve got a great power play. We respected those criteria and that gave us an opportunity to win.”
The Bruins clinched the Atlantic Division title with the win. It was an afterthought as much as it was a formality. Nobody was going to catch the bull-rushing Bruins.
Washington, Columbus, Detroit, and Toronto are failing in their chances to secure the final two playoff spots. Right now, whichever team nabs the final spot is facing a four-and-out against the Bruins. Perhaps those players would prefer to start their golf games a few weeks early.