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Iginla believes Avalanche heading in right direction

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- It's been a disappointing season for the Colorado Avalanche, to say the least. They're last in the Central Division following a surprising first-place finish a year ago and have plenty of work to do to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But veteran forward Jarome Iginla, who signed a three-year, $16 million contract as a free agent July 1, said he has no regrets about joining the Avalanche and hasn't given up hope about climbing back into the playoff picture.

The Avalanche (24-22-11) trail the Vancouver Canucks by seven points for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference and figure they'll need 36 points in the final 25 games to make it.

"Hopefully we light it up the rest of the year," Iginla, 37, told "We're not writing the year off yet. We're still looking to have a great finish."

Iginla is doing his part. A notorious slow starter throughout his 18-season NHL career, Iginla has taken over the Avalanche lead in goals (18) and points (40). He has 11 goals and 11 assists in the past 26 games and will take a four-game point streak (two goals, five assists) into Colorado's game against the Los Angeles Kings at Pepsi Center on Wednesday (10 p.m. Et; NBCSN).

Iginla ranks 19th on the NHL all-time list with 578 goals and 45th with 1,207 points in 1,367 games. He's won several individual awards, is a six-time NHL All-Star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada, but he's missing the most important prize of all: the Stanley Cup. He came close in 2004 with the Calgary Flames, who lost a seven-game Cup Final series to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Just like in 2001, when the Avalanche mission was to win the Cup for Ray Bourque, they have a similar goal for Iginla. Coincidentally, each joined Colorado after leaving the Boston Bruins, Bourque in a trade and Iginla as a free agent.

"This guy believed in us, he signed here, he wanted to come play for us," Avalanche forward Matt Duchene said. "I know I feel a sense of responsibility to do my best every day, even a little extra now that he's on the team.

"He's a guy that I admire a lot and is fun to play with. He was a guy I looked up to as a kid and even early on in my NHL career, watching the way he handles himself, watching the way he shoots the puck, and he's a great leader."

Forward Alex Tanguay was a member of the Avalanche's Cup-winning team in 2001 and a linemate with Iginla in Calgary for parts of five seasons. They talked last summer when Iginla was pondering his options after NHL salary-cap issues prevented him from re-signing with the Bruins.

"I told him we had some good young players and that Denver was a great city to live in for his family," Tanguay said. "Sometimes for us players it's not so bad because we spend so much time at the rink, but for the family and kids it's nice to know there are great neighborhoods and it's a good city to live in. It was an easy sell. We all know that he's looking for that elusive Stanley Cup."

Iginla and his wife Kara have three children, sons Tij and Joe, and daughter Jade. He was looking for some stability for himself and his family when he signed what likely will be his final contract.

"It was important for me and my family to have that, to be able to buy a house, to set some roots down," he said. "My family's really enjoyed it, it's a nice place to live, the weather's great and it's a good sports city.

It's been a disappointing season for the Colorado Avalanche, but veteran forward Jarome Iginla still believes the team is set up to contend for a Stanley Cup soon. (Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI)

"At this point in my career a big part was having a chance to win, a chance to be on a successful team, but it wasn't just about one year. Hopefully it is this year, but I think we're going to get better and better as a group."

Iginla spent a good chunk of the season on a line with Tanguay and Duchene, but coach Patrick Roy recently swapped Tanguay with Maxime Talbot in an attempt for more balanced scoring. The unit combined for one goal and four assists Monday in a 5-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes.

Iginla remains positive the best is yet to come.

"When I came here with a three-year deal, you want to win right away," he said. "It might take a year or two or three, but I think it's going to trend upwards. Last year they had a great season and this year they came in with higher expectations and more pressure, and as a group we probably didn't handle it as well as we would have liked.

"I still believe it's going to be a very successful group. There's been some growing pains, but I still think it's going in the right direction and we have some great young players that are going to keep getting better and better. I'm really enjoying my time here."

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