NHL history beckons as Iginla one shy of 500th goal
WASHINGTON -- Jarome Iginla says he would rather discuss his team's ongoing battle in the Western Conference standings, but the Flames captain can't help but flash his trademark smile when the topic of his upcoming milestone is brought to his attention.
Calgary's all-time leading scorer enters play Tuesday one goal shy of becoming the 42nd player in NHL history with 500 career tallies.
"I may not know how many guys have done it but it is special for me to be this close to 500, and I do kind of still have to pinch myself that it's happening," Iginla told NHL.com.
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"When I started to play in the NHL -- to think I'd be able to play 1,000 games and to be this close to 500 goals … it would have been crazy. But that's why part of me wants to enjoy it … and when you hit different things, different milestones like 1,000 games, it makes you think back and look back and reflect a bit, and I definitely really appreciate it."
With a rash of injuries having swept through the NHL this season, Iginla is quick to reference his history of good health when asked to explain how he has been able to close in on 500 goals.
Iginla has played in all but 12 games since the 2004-05 work stoppage. He enters play Tuesday having played in 399 consecutive games, and dating back to the 1996-97 campaign, Iginla has never played fewer than 70 games in a season.
Not bad for a guy who has never shied away from contact and is often the target of opposing players.
"When I played with him, he could make some big hits and he'd drop the gloves," said Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik, a 19-year NHL veteran who played in Calgary from 2005-07. "He was just really tough to play against. If you (tick) him off, he's not afraid of anybody and he'll fight back. Overall he's one of the best players in our League -- one of the best I ever played with."
Added teammate and longtime Vancouver Canuck Brendan Morrison: "He has a tremendous amount of respect from not only guys on this team, but from guys all around the League. When you think of the Flames, you think of Iginla. He's a great leader and true professional -- knows when to speak and what to say, and he's easy to follow on the ice."
While Iginla has again managed to stay healthy this season, many of his teammates cannot say the same. The Flames began the week with 155 man games lost -- tops in the Western Conference -- and it may be partly to blame for Calgary's 12th place standing.
The Flames enter play Tuesday having lost three straight, but their season-long seven-game road trip has also seen Olli Jokinen suit up for his 1,000th career game, and Morrison record his 200th career goal. Iginla's milestone should be next.
"It's a tremendous accomplishment, a tremendous milestone," Flames coach Brent Sutter said. "Scoring 500 goals in the National Hockey League is quite a feat. He's been a great player for the Flames, but he's at the stage of his career now where he wants to have some team success and win and that's what we're about.
"I think he'd like to get [goal No. 500] over with just like everyone else so we can get it done and move on."
In addition to his health, Iginla also points to a number of former teammates for their contributions as he approaches the personal milestone.
"The first guy that comes to mind is Craig Conroy -- a very good passing centerman," he said. "I'm probably more of a shooter, and you're fortunate as a winger when you get to play with centers who really look for you. I know that he got in trouble on a lot of nights for trying to look for me maybe a little too much, but it was fun to play with and you appreciate that as a winger.
"Marc Savard, when we were younger, I played with him, Alex Tanguay. … I've just been fortunate. … It is neat when you look back and I've definitely been very fortunate to play with some very good players and have good chemistry, but I'd probably put 'Connie' right up there."
Iginla's priority remains winning hockey games and climbing up the standings, but the 34-year-old admits the pressure can mount if he goes a few games stuck on 499.
"That will happen," he said of the 500th goal entering his mind. "Sometimes when you're going down getting ready to shoot I imagine it will probably be in my head. I remember trying to go for 50 and you're thinking, 'Geez, maybe it could be this shot,' but you try to get that out of your head because it plays with you a bit."
Iginla is a two-time 50 goal scorer and a two-time winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal scorer. His 15 goals this season are tied for the team lead with linemate Curtis Glencross.
The Flames conclude their road trip this week with games in Washington and Boston before returning home to face Minnesota on Saturday.