Wins make Flames' chase rewarding

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

One more hat-trick will do it.

It would put Jarome Iginla over the 50-goal plateau for the second time in his career.

With his running total now at 48, thanks to a three-snipe performance in a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild, the goal-scorer's measuring stick is in his sights.

"Thankfully, pucks are going in," said Iginla after the game, laughing off the topic of yet another milestone.

"At this time of year, every guy tries to think what they're going to bring. I like to go to the net and shoot pucks."

It's a little cliche, to say wins are a bigger reward, but when Iginla says it, he means it. He's had it both ways, scoring goals on a losing team and putting them in the net with a winner.

Wins are one of the biggest differences between his current campaign and the last time he netted 50, during the 2001-02 season.

Barring some disastrous collapse, Iginla will lead the Flames into the post-season this year. Back then, not even his unbelievable 52-goal, 96-point season -- both league highs -- could get his team into the playoffs.

He probably deserved the Hart Trophy that year, but his team's shortcomings partially prevented the honour.

It's a similar situation Alex Ovechkin is facing right now, with his team currently on the outside looking in despite his hefty offensive numbers.

There's no doubting Iginla was as dominant back then as Ovechkin, with 60 goals, is now.

That is another big difference between Iginla's past 50-goal showing and the one he's trying for now.

"I remember him getting tackled going to the net," said Craig Conroy of his former linemate's dominance in 2002. "No one was scoring 50.

"I just remember he was dominating games, and he was the only guy. This year, he's got a great supporting cast, with Tangs (Alex Tanguay) and Juice (Kristian Huselius) and Lanks (Daymond Langkow). He didn't have that then.

"He was a one-man show."

When he was last a member of the 50 club, his closest rivals -- Mats Sundin, Bill Guerin and Markus Naslund -- netted just 41.

Naslund and teammate Todd Bertuzzi were his only real competition in the points category, with Naslund the only other player to hit 90, and Big Bert added 85 to the potent Vancouver Canucks attack.

The Flames, though, earned just 79 points and finished 11th in the Western Conference that campaign.

They've got 88 now, with seven games to go, and are challenging for the Northwest Division title and a top-three seeding that goes with it.

And make no mistake, that has a lot to do with Iginla's leadership.

There are other edgy players, like Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr, and Miikka Kiprusoff's goaltending is a key ingredient, but it starts with Iginla.

"You feed off him," said Conroy. "He's the captain. It starts with Jarome."


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