Making of a legend

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:03 PM ET


 TAMPA -- Jarome Iginla has won Olympic gold, a world championship, a world junior crown and two Memorial Cups.

 The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup.

 History has shown when a tourney or season is on the line, No.12 has rarely failed.

 He demonstrated it in Salt Lake City when he scored twice and added an assist in the gold-medal game.

 He did it again in Vancouver for Game 7 six weeks ago when he posted identical stats to give the Flames their first series victory in 15 years.

 Whenever the Flames have needed him most throughout these playoffs, the captain has come up big as part of his official coming-out party known as the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs.

 He has set up an overtime winner in each of the four series, he has three game-winners, two short-handed markers and leads all players with 13 goals.

 Showing remarkable consistency through the post-season, the two-time Rocket Richard trophy winner has scored in 12 of the club's 25 games -- a ratio unheard of in the regular season, let alone the playoffs.

 As the hours count down to the final game of the 2004 season, never before has Iginla been needed as much as he will be tonight when his Flames face the Lightning in a Game 7 showdown for the Stanley Cup.

 Unable to help his club put the Bolts away at home two nights earlier, he was the first to suggest he wasn't very effective, which only serves to motivate him as he heads into the biggest game of his career.

 "I didn't play very well," said Iginla. "In the preparation before the game and all day, I was very nervous, very excited.

 I probably thought about it a little too much, didn't have my same preparation and I wasn't very good. The exciting part is there is another opportunity for our team and myself to try to be better and play in Game 7 and win this thing."

 There have been 12 Games 7s in Stanley Cup final history, setting the stage for a venerable who's who of NHL greats who've used the do-or-die scenario to add to their legend:

 In 1955, Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio both scored to clinch Detroit the Cup;

 in '64, Johnny Bower shut out the Wings; in '65, Gump Worsley blanked Chicago; Henri Richard scored the '71 game-winner and Mark Messier scored the winner in '94.

 Having long spoken of his desire to be considered one of the game's greats, Iginla now has the perfect opportunity to cap off one of the most heroic playoff performances in recent memory.

 To hell with the Hart Trophy for now, the Conn Smythe Trophy is his for the taking.

 So is the Cup.

 "It was a tough loss and sure (Saturday) was a chance to win a Stanley Cup and be one shot away," said Iginla, 26.

 "But we have been in this (adversarial) position many times and this is definitely very exciting."

 This is the type of evening all young athletes work for but only a precious few use as platforms for their greatness.

 "This is what we dream of," said Iginla, who will close his eyes during the national anthem, as always, giving thanks for the opportunity to play the game he loves.

 "This is going to be very intense.

 I imagine the nerves are going to be going a little bit for everybody but it's about managing those, enjoying it and playing our best."

 The visiting team is 2-10 in Game 7 of the final, no team has ever won the Cup with a losing playoff record at home, no team has ever won 11 playoff road games and no team has ever played this many games (26) and won it all.

 The odds are stacked, as they have been ever since Iginla became a Flame, but if anyone can take a team where no club has gone before, it's Iginla.

 Whoever the opponent and whatever the scenario, he's the only skater on the ice who can be so dominating physically, he can be the game's No. 1 star even if he fails to record a point.

 That won't be enough tonight as he gets one last chance to carry the offence of a team that could be missing as many as six regulars.

 If anyone is up to the task it's a man who has already made his mark in the biggest games on the grandest of stages. They don't get any bigger than this and no one knows that better than Iginla.

 The face of the franchise.

 The face of these playoffs.


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