- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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It took nearly two decades before he wore a Bruins sweater, but in his first season with Boston he's proved an ideal fit for the black and gold. The top-line winger is tough. He's physical. He's talented and fits perfectly in the Bruins style of play.
It's no coincidence Iginla's linemates -- David Krejci and Milan Lucic -- are enjoying the most consistent seasons of their careers with the veteran forward and future Hall of Famer in the mix. He carries a standard of excellence, which is almost impossible for his teammates not to follow.
On Tuesday, the NHL announced its monthly awards and Iginla was named first star of the month for March. He recorded 13 goals and four assists for 17 points in 17 games last month. He also had four two-goal games and five game-winning goals during that stretch. Iginla posted a plus-12 rating.
After the team's practice Tuesday at Ristuccia Arena, Iginla credited his teammates for his success this season.
"It's an honor," Iginla said of the award. "It's been an enjoyable month. For our whole team, we've had a great month. There have been a lot of guys who had great months, great streaks. You look at [Patrice Bergeron] -- he's been as hot as I've seen. So it's been good.
"It's been fun, but it's one of those things you don't really expect. I've gotten some good bounces, some great passes from my linemates, and as a line we've had some fun. But bigger than that it's been a great month for our team and we've all benefited from that."
The Bruins finished March with a 15-1-1 record. Boston is atop the Eastern Conference standings with 110 points, and currently leads the league in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, which goes to the team with the most points in the regular season.
The Bruins have no doubt benefited from Iginla's presence.
This summer, the Bruins were surprised that top-line forward Nathan Horton decided to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent. They unexpectedly needed to replace Horton's presence and production.
The ink was barely dry on Horton's contract with the Blue Jackets when Iginla's agent reached out to Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. Iginla and his agent did not know how the Bruins would react, especially given that Iginla had snubbed Boston and instead chose to play with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in waiving his no-movement clause with the Calgary Flames, the organization he spent his entire career with, at the trade deadline last season.
Boston and Pittsburgh eventually met in the Eastern Conference finals and the Bruins used Iginla's decision as motivation, sweeping the Penguins in four games for a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
During the summer, Iginla wanted another chance and the Bruins gladly gave it to him. His presence in Boston has worked out well for everyone involved, and once again the Bruins are Stanley Cup contenders.
Hockey's sacred chalice has eluded Iginla his entire career. For all the accolades and milestones he's reached, the 37-year-old forward has yet to win the Stanley Cup. He came close in 2004, but the Flames lost in the finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Iginla is hoping this is the season.
"I definitely feel blessed that this has gone as well as it has," Iginla said. "I was given a great opportunity to play with Krejci and Lucic right from the start. We had some hiccups during the year, even as a team we had some spells and stuff, but we've been able to work through them. I haven't been on a team in my career where you're battling at the top of the standings for pretty much the whole year, and it's fun. It's a different type of pressure."
Added Iginla, "I probably enjoy more battling at the top of the league and preparing for the playoffs. I do feel fortunate to have experienced that this year. I knew it was a very good team I was joining."
Iginla is a smart man and a student of the game. Knowing how passionate fans are in Boston, and understanding their displeasure for his decision at the trade deadline last season, Iginla introduced himself to the Garden faithful by dropping his gloves in his first game with the Bruins. He received a standing ovation for his pugilistic skills and all was forgotten.
He's produced offensively, too. Overall, he has 30 goals and 31 assists for 61 points in 75 games, including a plus-34 rating.
"He's been real good," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "If you look at the way he's been [in March], he's been really consistent. He's been a clutch player, and those kinds of guys that have been around for a long time are pretty savvy when it comes to dealing with the whole season.
"Sometimes they do have those slower starts, and for me the slow start was only production-wise and certainly not from work ethic and commitment. He finds his groove, he finds his hands and everything that comes with it, and at the end of the season, where we are right now, he's playing some of his best hockey. It's a good thing for us to witness that with him, and he's very deserving of that award."
Unless Iginla pulls a Mark Recchi and decides to retire if the Bruins win the Stanley Cup this spring, there's no reason to believe Iginla wouldn't re-sign and remain in Boston next season and possibly beyond.
For now, however, he's focused only on finishing the regular season strong and continuing that in the playoffs.
"I've really enjoyed my time here," he said. "The guys are a great group of guys, and I think there's a great balance with the young guys coming in and some of the older guys that will be able to play for a while and some guys that are right in their prime. The team is in great shape to compete for a while, and you'd love to be a part of that.
"It's been a great experience for myself and my family, and I feel very fortunate to have gotten a chance to be here this year. Hopefully, everything works out, but at the same time I know the best thing I can do is keep trying to focus on the now and enjoy this now, the run that we're on and getting ready for playoffs and the goal of winning. That's where the most focus is, but I've definitely enjoyed it and hope that everything works out."
Iginla fits the Bruins mold perfectly. He would look even better with the Stanley Cup over his head.