Iginla, Lecavalier put on punching display

Canadian Press

5/30/2004 12:58:20 AM

CALGARY (CP) - When discussing the greatest hockey player in the world, it is not uncommon to hear Jarome Iginla's name uttered in the same breath as the likes of Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, and Markus Naslund.

However, what separates the Calgary Flames 26-year-old captain from the crowd is his physical and robust style, which Iginla put on display for all the world to see Saturday night in the first period getting in a spirited first period fight with Tampa Bay Lightning's Vincent Lecavalier.

Iginla held the upper hand in the tussle 6:17 into the game and Calgary went on to a 3-0 game three victory to take a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup final.

``It gets him right into the game,'' said longtime linemate Craig Conroy. ``It really sets the tone for him for the rest of the game, he's fired up, he's physical, and that's when Jarome's at his best.''

At his best Saturday night included an assist on the winning goal and a goal in the third period to wrap up the scoring and earn him yet another Gordie Howe hat trick - a expression coined long ago describing a game in which a player scores a goal, gets an assist, and gets in a fight.

``Iggy's a competitor, he'll never back off, he's been our leader all playoffs long and he showed it again tonight,'' said Flames forward Martin Gelinas.

Iginla shrugged off the fight as just a product of an increasingly physical series.

``The fight is just a part of the intensity out there, everybody knows what's on the line,'' said Iginla. ``They raised their game physically last game and I thought tonight we really upped it as a group physically and the fight just kind of happened.''

Lecavalier got a close up look at what he's seen from Iginla since the post-season began.

``He's a very tough guy and he's been battling since the playoffs started,'' Lecavalier said. ``I've seen him a lot on TV. There's a lot of emotions out there and sometimes that stuff happens.''

Although coach Darryl Sutter, once a rugged player in his own right, has never had a problem with his team's best player dropping the gloves, others get more concerned.

``We'd rather not see him fight,'' said longtime linemate Craig Conroy. However, there can be no disputing the positive results that have followed such an encounter this post-season, a trend that should prove alarming to Tampa Bay.

Iginla fought Vancouver defenceman Mattias Ohlund in game three of the opening series. Calgary went on to win three of the next four games to eliminate the Canucks.

In game two of the next series, Iginla squared off with big Detroit defenceman Derian Hatcher. Again, the Flames went on to take three of the next four games and knock off the Red Wings.

``That's why he's our leader,'' said Calgary forward Chris Clark. ``If he's going to go out and fight, be rough, and he's the best player in the league, you know people are going to follow him.''

Chris Simon, one of the NHL's primary enforcers, was moved onto the top Flames top line Saturday with Conroy and Iginla, but he knows that Iginla likes to fight his own battles.

``That fight was huge, it really set the tone physically for us and we talked before the game that we had to bring a physical presence,'' Simon said.

Gelinas also tipped his hat to Lecavalier.

``It's playoffs and you have to get your team going. Those two guys have been playing hard and it was nice to see the two leaders going at her,'' said Gelinas.

Lecavalier's efforts impressed his team-mates but did not surprise them.

``Vinnie won't back down against anybody, he's a good force physically,'' said Tampa forward Martin St. Louis.

Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk concurred.

``That's the way he's been playing, he wants to take charge of the game,'' Andreychuk said.