- Scott Burnside, NHL
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PITTSBURGH -- Jarome Iginla is nothing if not a realist. He knows pretty much everyone in Boston hates him, and certainly anyone else with a passing interest in the Boston Bruins is not a big fan, either.
He's OK with that.
"I don't expect them to be cheering for me. I understand. It's part of the sport, it's part of the rivalry. I can understand why the fans wouldn't be thrilled," the Pittsburgh Penguins winger told a group of reporters gathered around his dressing room stall Friday.
That Iginla is one of the most respected figures in hockey is a given.
That he remains one of the most positive, upbeat guys in the game despite the fact he's closing in on 36 years of age also is undeniable.
Even though he has been asked over and over since the Eastern Conference finals was set, pitting his Penguins against the team to which he was once thought to be headed, the Iginla grin has remained firmly in place.
That doesn't mean he won't be all business once the puck drops on Game 1 Saturday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
"I think a lot of people would guess, myself included, that it was a good possibility we would be having to beat the Bruins to get to the finals," Iginla said. "It's exciting. It's great to be here. It's a good challenge. They're a very competitive team, as we are, and very determined.
"It's been a long layoff and lots of talking about this stuff, so it'll be nice to just get playing. I'm sure there's going to be other storylines."
His story is well known, of course -- how Boston GM Peter Chiarelli believed he had a deal done to acquire Iginla at the trade deadline, how that deal was never consummated and how Iginla ended up going to the Penguins for a couple of prospects.
From that point on, first with a late-season game in Boston during which Nathan Horton inexplicably challenged Iginla to fight and then with the anticipation that the clubs might meet in the playoffs, the Iginla/Boston storyline has remained ripe fruit.
How could it not?
As much as Iginla insists there was no disrespect intended -- and that from his vantage point there was never a deal agreed to with the Bruins -- the bottom line is Iginla made a choice between the two teams.
And in making the choice, he implied that he did not believe in the Bruins. Or rather, that he did not believe in them enough. He chose the Penguins because he felt they gave him the best chance to win a long-awaited Stanley Cup and the best chance to be a good fit. Better than whatever opportunities the Bruins offered.
No matter how gracious and diplomatic Iginla is, that stings. And if the sting has lessened or been pushed away for the players involved, it still resonates with a proud fan base.
"We didn't have any say in it," Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid offered. "It was his choice.
"He's played for a long time, and he was in a position to make that decision, and he made the decision he felt was best for him."
As for motivation, there are plenty of reasons to want to be at your best as a player at this stage of the season, with or without the Iginla factor.
"There's no shortage of reasons to get up for games right now," McQuaid said.
With his choice about to be put to the ultimate test, Iginla reiterated Friday that he has no regrets. He's a fixture on the Penguins' smoking-hot power play and has 12 points in 11 postseason games as he pursues his first Stanley Cup championship.
"I think it's been probably a better experience than I thought," Iginla said. "You don't really know what to expect, never being through it before. Right from day one coming in, I was a little antsy, for sure, but the guys [have] been great.
"We've had some success at the end of the regular season. [The Penguins] had success as a group before a lot of us got here, but we were able to come and fit in and be part of that."
For the most part, Iginla has been playing with goal machines James Neal and Evgeni Malkin. That he and veteran winger Brenden Morrow, another team captain acquired at the trade deadline, are chasing their first championships is another dynamic that adds to the Penguins' identity.
"That's a positive, I think, that they're chasing that and that's their goal and they've accepted the role that they've been asked to do and they've done it well," Penguins GM Ray Shero said Friday.
Shero said he didn't know Iginla before the trade but has been impressed by how well he's fit in with the team.
Sidney Crosby echoed those sentiments, saying the late-season additions -- including Iginla -- have made it easy because of their personalities.
"I think the way our team is and the people that we added, it was so easy," Crosby told ESPN.com. "They're great guys; they bring so much to a room.
"I don't think anybody's trying to be anyone they're not, so I think it makes it a lot easier, and I think our team welcomed those guys with open arms, and I think those guys were really happy and really motivated to be here."
Iginla's transition might have been the most dramatic.
He's gone from being the face of the franchise for the Calgary Flames, for which he had played his entire NHL career, to being simply another face in a locker room full of distinct visages.
He's gone from being the person who answered on a daily basis for a big-time Canadian franchise (he became Flames captain in 2003) to a guy who simply looks over his shoulder and marvels at Crosby as the Pens' captain is swarmed every day by dozens of reporters.
"It's been fun. On the one side, growing up in Calgary and getting to be captain's a huge honor. I loved it. It was fun. But this is a nice change, too," he said, glancing toward Crosby, who had disappeared behind a phalanx of cameras and microphones and notebooks.
"As far as interviews after practices and games, I can see Sid does more, and some of the other guys do more, and I don't mind that."
If his off-ice responsibilities have shifted, so too have his on-ice duties. No longer is he expected to be the catalyst on offense, as he was for many seasons in Calgary. Now, he is one of a significant arsenal.
"You can kind of share that pressure," he said. "On the bench and next shift, it's fun to watch. When you're on the bench and pulling for the guys, and when you go out, you still [feel] that pressure to try and contribute and stuff, but you definitely share it as a group."
Starting Saturday night, we'll begin to learn whether all that good will and good feeling will prove, in the end, that Iginla made the right choice.
For years the face of the Calgary Flames, veteran forward Jarome Iginla finds that he fits well in Pittsburgh, too, writes Scott Burnside