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Iginla facing Bruins after tough trade choice

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- During some whirlwind days in March, as Jarome Iginla came to the realization he would soon be leaving the only NHL home he'd known, he figured it might come down to this.

The Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Eastern Conference Finals. A trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

"I knew there was a big possibility we'd be in this situation," Iginla said after practicing with the Penguins on Wednesday. "And here we are."

With a no-movement clause in his contract with the Calgary Flames, Iginla had veto power over any trade. In effect, he had the choice of which team he wanted to join when Flames general manager Jay Feaster worked out a trade deals with the Penguins and the Bruins.

Iginla chose Pittsburgh, with one of the reasons being it gave the 35-year-old a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

Turns out, each team has made it to the cusp of the Final.

"When I was faced with that choice and had the opportunity of being very fortunate to have a couple of really good teams [trading for me], I knew the possibility that this would be the case," Iginla said. "So I'm thrilled to be here, and it's been a great experience. I'm looking forward to this series. I think it's going to be a great series."

Game 1 is Saturday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

In the late-night hours of March 27 and early morning of March 28, reports leaked that Iginla had been traded to the Bruins. They proved premature. Not long after, official word came of a deal with the Penguins.

Iginla on Wednesday reiterated he did not renege on his consent of a trade to Boston, as has been speculated.

"I never said 'Yes' and then 'No,'" Iginla said. "It wasn't a case of that. It was a case of both teams were interested and I had the opportunity and I was fortunate Calgary gave me that chance. I chose Pitt, and I'm thrilled -- even if I know Boston is a great team."

Iginla had five goals and six assists in 13 games down the stretch of the regular season for the Penguins, and he has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 11 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He now finds himself playing in a conference final for the first time since 2004. In Calgary, Iginla's Flames hadn't advanced past the first round since then, when the team lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, and hasn't made the postseason since 2009.

Tied for fifth among playoff scorers and three days from playing for a berth in another Final, Iginla's decision has so far worked out how he hoped it would.

"When you come to a team that's as good and as deep as the Penguins? Really the playoffs, that's what it's all about," Iginla said. "There are big expectations, and you hope to be on a really good team whose goal is to win. It's been a great experience throughout. I'm very blessed to get a chance to come here. It's been a lot of fun."

The Penguins are equally happy with the deal that sent college prospects Ben Agostino and Ben Hanowski, along with a first-round pick, to the Flames for the wing whose 530 goals rank third among active players.

The longtime captain in Calgary, Iginla wears no letter on his Penguins sweater. After all, he joined a team with an established leader, Sidney Crosby, and several other veterans with Stanley Cup experience. But Pittsburgh's players are glad to report Iginla has fit in seamlessly.

"I knew there was a big possibility we'd be in this situation. And here we are."
-- Jarome Iginla on facing the Boston Bruins

"I think you'd have a hard time finding somebody in this world to fit in easier anywhere," said defenseman Douglas Murray, himself an NHL Trade Deadline pickup from the San Jose Sharks. "He's a great guy and obviously a good player. He commands respect right away for that, but he's very considerate and a great teammate."

Though he still gets time on the power play and is skating on a line with reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin and recent 40-goal scorer James Neal, Iginla's ice time is down slightly from his days with the Flames.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma complimented Iginla's team-first attitude in accepting a slightly lesser role. He also said how, even as the League's 32nd all-time leading goal scorer, the 210-pound forward isn't afraid to serve as something of an enforcer -- or at least a deterrent -- alongside Malkin and Neal.

"You don't mess around when this guy's on the ice," Bylsma said. "He's a fierce competitor. He sets the tone. There's not a lot of people that aren't put in check when Jarome is on the ice. That's what he does for those guys playing with him, especially in those tighter areas."

Iginla's size and physicality figure to be all the more valuable against the big, tough Bruins. It's an aspect of his game that likely made Boston interested in his services in the first place.

Pittsburgh and Boston were on the short list of teams Iginla was willing to join. He made a decision, and each team has moved on, with the Bruins eventually trading for wing in Jaromir Jagr.

According to Iginla's new teammates, he has met or exceeded all expectations, although he said he didn't place any upon himself when he arrived in Pittsburgh.

"Every game you go into, you want to be as good as you can be," Iginla said. "I've had some good games and had some not-so-good games. I've been very fortunate to get to play with great players like [Malkin], [Crosby] and [Neal]. I've enjoyed playing with them, and our chemistry is getting better as time goes on.

"I didn't really have a lot of expectations other than you want to be ready to go and contribute when you get a chance."

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