Former Penguins winger Iginla returns to Pittsburgh with Bruins
Jarome Iginla learned something in Pittsburgh.
“It was an adjustment for me,” Iginla said Tuesday after his Boston Bruins prepared for an Eastern Conference final rematch with the Penguins by practicing at Consol Energy Center.
“You want to fit in. You don't want to make any waves. I'd never been through it. You're trying to help out, not step on any toes.
“I realized later, and you realize partly through it, that they also get you to be who you are and what you do.
“It's a balance there, and I tried to walk that. I learned, and this year it's a little bit different.”
That will seem obvious Wednesday night when Iginla faces his former Penguins teammates for the first time.
Befitting his reputation as an NHL luminary, Iginla offered all the proper words Tuesday about his tenure with the Penguins.
None of those words was as telling as the near admission that he never really brought himself upon arriving from Calgary last March.
He was not a difference-maker. Iginla scored a goal in only three of 15 Stanley Cup playoff games.
He was not a fiery presence. Iginla adopted a fit-in approach while ceding to coach Dan Bylsma and captain Sidney Crosby.
Iginla, playing at the unnatural left-wing position on the second line, joined the Penguins to win that elusive Cup.
He never even played for it before leaving as a free agent without an offer to return.
“It was pretty good up until the last series,” Iginla said, referring to the sweep from the playoffs at the hands of his current club, the Bruins.
“There were a lot of positives as far as winning … it just didn't end well. It was a pretty drastic ending as far as how quick and sudden.”
Iginla, acquired by general manager Ray Shero on March 28 for a couple of prospects and a 2013 first-round pick, equally wowed and befuddled his Penguins teammates.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen expressed disbelief while sharing a dressing room with Iginla before his Penguins debut March 30. Center Evgeni Malkin had taken to begging Iginla to shoot more by end of the Penguins' playoff run in early June.
“That shot,” Bylsma said Tuesday, recalling the 69 days that Iginla spent donning a Penguins jersey.
“He's a consummate professional, an all-around pro. There's that — and his shot. That really left a mark on me.”
Iginla used that shot to win a scoring title, goal title and nearly an MVP — he finished a controversial second to Montreal goalie Jose Theodore — during the 2001-02 season. For most of the next decade, he proved to be a dominant power forward on his way to more than 500 goals.
He was 35 when he joined the Penguins, with neither the hands nor foot speed of the imposing player who became the face of Calgary if not Canadian hockey.
Still, the Penguins believed he was a missing piece to their Cup puzzle — and Iginla won his former teammates' respect with, as Crosby said, “his professionalism.”
Bruins leaders have noticed that, too.
“Just how great of a guy he is,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. “You heard about that, but now being with him, it's even more obvious.
“But he also wants to get better every day. He has this incredible work ethic. You can tell he's still playing for something.”
That something remains the Cup, and 20 minutes on a stationary bicycle after a hard practice was not too great a price to pay for Iginla on Tuesday.
Nor was leaving Calgary, his NHL home for most of 18 seasons, to join the Penguins for a too-short shot at glory last season.
“It was a good experience,” Iginla said.
“I didn't mind trying the other side. There's no excuses or anything like that… uh, you know what I mean?”