DETROIT — Jarome Iginla has been around the rink a long time, long enough to know that his name on the scoresheet doesn’t have to be followed by a bunch of numbers, his back riddled with the palm prints of backslaps, to validate that he had a good night.
Thursday was a very good night for the ex-Calgarian, the Flames’ former old man with the “C”, who finally potted his first postseason goal in his new threads. In so doing, he positioned the Bruins as a shoo-in for a date in Round 2 of the Cup playoffs against the Canadiens.
“I’ve been in a great situation all year,’’ said a beaming and grateful Iginla, moments after his net-front tip of a Dougie Hamilton shot handed the Bruins a come-from-behind 3-2 uppercut to the jaw to the staggered, reeling Red Wings.
Iginla, serene and sincere following this emotional night, went on to list his blessings, chief among them, he noted, the fact that he has been paired “from the start of training camp, really” with first-liners Milan Lucic and David Krejci. He showed up in Boston in September to fill the gap left behind by a Columbus-bound Nathan Horton and the better-thinking (so he thought) Daniel Alfredsson, who chose to join the Wings as a free agent instead of the Bruins.
Ironic, somewhat, that Alfredsson was hors de combat for both Games 3 and 4 between these Original Six franchises. Injured, to the point that he was barely noticeable in Games 1 and 2 in Boston, Alfredsson was forced to the sideline while coach Mike Babcock reworked his roster to try to find some remedy to deal with the bigger, stronger, considerably more efficient Bruins.
“I was hoping,’’ mused Iginla, revisiting his decision to sign with Boston, recalculating his calculation in July when he figured the Bruins might be his right fit. “And I’ve been part of a Presidents’ Trophy here — so that’s a first for me — and it’s just been a great experience, and you know, hopefully it goes for a while longer.’’
It appears a fait accompli that it will progress to what would be the likely Hall-of-Famer-to-be’s first dalliance with the Habs in the recurring puck holy war between the mutually-loathing franchises. The Habs this week finished their 4-0 sweep of the Bolts and are back in Montreal, remote clickers and black-and-gold voodoo dolls in hand, prepping for what might come.
The Bruins take on the Red Wings again Saturday, a 3 p.m. matinee at the Garden, primed to close out the best-of-seven series after moving to the 3-1 lead on Iginla’s goal. With Boston’s first line slow to get its game going Thursday, the Lucic-Krejci-Iginla trio eventually proved vital in tearing the game away from the Wings in Period 3.
Lucic potted the 2-2 equalizer at the start of the period, left alone in front of Jonas Gustavsson to knock in a perfect dish from Carl Soderberg amid a line change at 1:15. Then in OT, with 13:32 gone and the look of competing gone from the Red Wings’ eyes, the beefy tandem of Iginla and Lucic converged on net as Hamilton unloaded his shot from the right wing circle.
Hamilton provided the shot, Iginla the tip, and Wings back liner Danny DeKeyser the ricochet-ready left leg, a combination that was far too much for Gustavsson to handle. Game over. Night finished. And by the looks of it, Red Wings finished, too.
Babcock’s new roster recipe worked well in the first period, returning veterans Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi adding some presence, but not nearly enough, be it in volume or endurance. Up against the Bruins, the Red Wings look too young, too injured, simply too collapsible to think they now could run the table with three W’s and avoid the inevitable.
“In the third period, Lucic was absolutely flying,’’ said Iginla, noting that the early going was far from the line’s best work, the entire Boston squad slow to get in gear, perhaps because Detroit’s sleepy efforts in Games 2 and 3 left them convinced of an easy win. “He gave us something to build on in the third period. Now we’ve got to load up [with Friday’s recovery day] and we want to close this out, while taking nothing for granted, of course.
“We know we have to be better than we were [in Game 4] from the start.’’
Such slow warm-ups and early deficits (Wings, 2-0, within 25 minutes Thursday night) might not be as easy to negate in Round 2 vs. the Habs, who are craftier than the Wings — at least at this juncture of the long, grinding Cup march. Catch-up hockey too often is losing hockey, although Tuukka Rask’s work in net always provides the Bruins with the chance to chip away at deficits.
Through four games, Rask owns miserly, mesmerizing postseason stats, including a .966 save percentage (115 saves on 119 shots) and a 0.94 goals-against mark. Unlike the stupendous, oft-circus-like Cup-winning work by Tim Thomas in 2011, the cool and efficient Rask made few, if any, spectacular saves in these four games. That’s in part a credit to Boston’s team-wide defense, a full-sheet effort that kept the Wings from generating many true scoring threats.
But it also reflects Rask’s methodology and style, his personality. He is constantly well positioned, unflappable, and anticipatory. The older, less-orthodox Thomas played with a chip on his shoulder and a penchant to challenge shooters far more frequently than Rask, which often led Thomas to scurry into position to make diving stick saves or flash a blocker or glove.
Rask has been almost hypnotizingly metronomic, hockey’s version of the DMV clerk who processes a walk-up customer’s paperwork without ever making eye contact. Customer arrives, surrenders documents, hands over check, and in a flurry of stamps “PAID’’ and grunts, the transaction is over. “Next!’’ yells the clerk.
Detroit’s 18 nightly shooters have been processed by the Thin Finn. It’s impossible to hear, but one can almost imagine thinking, “Next!’’
Puck possession and management, also familiar trademarks, also were on full display in Games 2, 3, and 4 for the Bruins, who are looking to return to the Cup Final for a third time in four seasons. They finished with the faceoff advantage in each of those three games, winning 55 percent. When in possession, they’ve typically maintained it. Witness Game 4: The scoresheet showed the Bruins gave away one puck in 74 minutes, while the Red Wings coughed it up eight times.
All in all, the series has taken on the look of a No. 1 seed not so much having its way with a No. 8 seed, but rather the underdog Wings just unable to overcome the Bruins’ consistent, core strengths. The Bruins are bigger, stronger, and more playoff-tested and tempered, and they have a vastly superior netminder (even when Jimmy Howard is healthy).
And while the Wings scurry to get some of their old guard shaped up and back in the game, the Bruins have the likes of elders Zdeno Chara and Iginla contributing vital, productive minutes.
“It was good,’’ noted Iginla, again thinking of the recovery the top trio made. “It was good for our line to feel it.’’