No kneed to worry

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

If there were any questions about how long it would take for Jarome Iginla to return to top form, they've been answered with authority.

The Calgary Flames sniper has scored four times in his last three games -- all one-timed slappers that strike fear into the most confident goaltender -- and admits the trepidation that followed his most severe injury in nearly a decade is gone.

"When you first come back, it just takes a little bit to get past it mentally as far as when you're going in corners -- you think about it, trying to keep (the knee) in a safe position," said Iginla, who now has nine games under his belt after missing a month with a sprained left knee.

"Probably the first four or five games, I was thinking about it."

Iginla missed five weeks and a dozen games with a broken bone in his hand late in the 1997-98 season but dealing with a leg injury is different. Not only does his left knee play a critical role in Iginla's powerful shot, it's constantly exposed during scrums for loose pucks along the boards where Iginla and his linemates often find themselves.

"I noticed it most in the battles," said Iginla. "Trying to not think about it but I was. People told me before -- guys on our team have had MCL injuries -- it's natural. It just kind of goes away, and it has."

Iginla returned to the lineup on the same night his good friend Craig Conroy made his second debut in the Flaming C on Feb. 2. The excitement helped Iginla to a three-point night, including his 24th goal of the season, during a 6-2 thrashing of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

A key divisional contest against the visiting Vancouver Canucks the next night was also very emotional and Iginla came up with two helpers in the 4-3 Flames victory.

Then the captain hit that post-injury wall and went without a point for three games amid a five-game goal drought that tied his longest of the season.

"For a while there when I came back I wasn't skating very well, I wasn't winning the battles," said Iginla. "The better I move, the more chances happen."

Those chances have been coming one after another for Iginla over the past few games and a big reason is he no longer worries about his knee.

"I don't know how you overcome that but it just kind of went away. Now I don't really think about it at all and I feel normal again," said Iginla, who feels no lingering pain from the injury.

"But there have also been some real nice passes. As a group, we've played better our last few. It's definitely a combination of a few things."

Another reason is timing. When an athlete sits out for even a couple of weeks, they get out of touch with the speed of the game.

"Coming back from any injury, hand or whatever, things happen very quickly out there," said Iginla.

"It's just getting used to people being on you again, then the battling in the corners. I don't know if it's (being in game) shape as much as it's just getting back into how quick you have to do things."

Conroy is happy to see his wing man full of confidence again.

"Injury's hard to come back from sometimes because you still question whether you're ready to go or not if it doesn't feel exactly perfect," said Conroy.

"Now you see it in him, he's not hesitant, he's not favouring that leg at all. He's the old Jarome."

And the old Jarome always seems to be in the perfect position for the one-timer in open ice.

"When he gets back in form ... that's what he does best," said Conroy. "Once he gets there, he's got just an unbelievable shot. It's fun to see him feeling good again and not worrying about it."


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