Iginla displays greatness again

Updated: May 26, 2004, 8:15 PM ET
By Jim Kelley | ESPN.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- The statistics say that the first meeting between two of the NHL's three MVP candidates -- Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames and Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning -- in the Stanley Cup finals was dead even.

Sometimes statistics lie.

Both men scored Tuesday night. Iginla scored while his team was short-handed. He scored on a never-quit second effort. He scored what proved to be the game winner. But most of all, he scored when the game was waiting to be won or lost and made Tampa Bay's vaunted power play hesitant and uncertain en route to a 4-1 Lightning loss at the St. Pete Times Forum.

No player controls every game all the time, but Iginla seems to know how and when.

He did it with a similar goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference final against San Jose, a crucial win for the Flames. He did it by setting up the game winners in Games 5 and 6 against Detroit. He did it by scoring two goals and setting up the game winner in overtime in Game 7 against Vancouver.

"The short-handed goal was the difference in the game for us," noted Flames coach Darryl Sutter. "That was a huge goal. That was a second-effort goal. I thought he had everything going, his feet going, he was driving to tough areas. He was really good tonight."

It has gone that way most of the season and seemingly all of the playoffs for the best superstar performer many probably never heard of. Jarome Iginla isn't just having a good Stanley Cup playoffs, he's having a career Stanley Cup playoffs. The Flames captain, who is making his first postseason appearance since his 1996 debut, is putting up Conn Smythe Trophy-winning numbers, the kind of numbers that conjure up the exploits of a Rocket Richard or Joe Sakic. More important, he's doing the kinds of things that give his team confidence, even in new and uncertain situations.

Iginla is being asked to lead, not by example, but by exemplary example. And he's responding.

"No question Jarome's goal was a big goal for us," said winger Martin Gelinas, who has scored all three series clinchers for the Flames this postseason. "They have one of the best power plays, and when we capitalized on it, we just kept coming."

"That second goal was key," said Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella. "He [Iginla] had the presence of mind to stop, and our guy (Fredrik Modin) went the wrong way behind the net. But he [Iginla] made the play."

He wasn't alone. Gelinas opened the scoring with what could best be described as a fortunate goal off his skate, the post and Tampa Bay goalie Nikolai Khabibulin's pad. Stephane Yelle pushed the margin to 3-0 with an unassisted tally less than three minutes after Iginla scored. Clearly it was not Tampa Bay's night, even after St. Louis scored on a power play to make it 3-1.

It's said that great players make their own luck, but Iginla has been too effective too often for his goal to have anything to do with that.

Modin said the puck jumped over his stick in the Calgary end and thought he made a good play to get back. Seeing Iginla miss on his first shot, high on the glove side, Modin went in that direction -- while Iginla went in the other -- to chase down the rebound. It's what a good hockey player, especially one scrambling to make a defensive play, would do. But Iginla made a smarter play. He waited until the puck came back out to him. And with Khabibulin down and out from the initial save, Iginla had the patience and poise to wait for the opportunity to come to him.

It's something not even a good goal-scorer would always do. But then that's often the difference between good and great.

"What can I say," Modin said. "I thought I made the right play and then something happened and it went this way instead of that way and it ends up he makes a play. You like to think it's the bounces, but ..."

But it was Iginla's third game-winning goal of the playoffs. All of them have come on the road. It was also his seventh goal in 11 road games and sealed the Flames' third Game 1 win in four opportunities -- all on the road.

As is his nature, Iginla was overly modest about how it happened.

"It was something of a broken play because Modin went to the net and I think it bounced on him or under his stick," Iginla said. "I went in there and had a lot of time to think about it. I was trying to go top corner. Khabibulin made a great glove save. I could see it go up in the air. I stopped to watch it. I thought it might roll in, but I was thrilled when I saw I was going to have another chance. Usually you don't get two chances, and it was nice to see that cross the line."

Modesty is an unusual trait in a high-performance athlete, but even Tortorella wasn't buying that line.

"I think he made a hell of a play," he said.

Regardless of what Tortorella thinks of statistics, he at least knows greatness when he sees it.

He also doesn't lie.

Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.

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