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Iginla at the center of anticipated showdown

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  May 23, 2013 09:49 AM

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Bring on Jarome.

Not to look too far ahead, what with Game 4 to be played at Madison Square Garden tonight, and the Senators still hanging by a thread in their own Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Penguins, but the scenario is too delicious not to envision, if not also find intimidation in it.

If the Bruins and Penguins do indeed face off in the Eastern Conference final, it will be the first time since Boston and Pittsburgh met in the playoffs since the 1992 Wales Conference final. The last time the Bruins beat the Penguins in the postseason, you have to go all the way back to 1980.

More recently, the Bruins were 0-3 against the Penguins during the regular season, each game tightly contested and increasingly frustrating for Boston. Pittsburgh certainly presents the bumpier road to the Stanley Cup, but isn’t it the tantalizing matchup that we all want?

Jarome Iginla scored twice Wednesday night as the Penguins went on to rout the Senators, 7-3, to take a 3-1 series lead. Pittsburgh can wrap things up Friday night at home, while the Bruins can finish off a sweep of the New York Rangers Thursday night. The Bruins went 4-1 against the Senators, but they were also 3-1 against the Maple Leafs, and we saw how that translated to a seven-game series. Winless against the Penguins? No worries.

In Pittsburgh-Boston, we’d get the postseason storyline for which everybody pined with some added spice suddenly added to the mixture. It was at the end of March, after all, when Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli had a deal in place with the Calgary for Iginla, the Flames’ franchise player whose no-movement clause included a handful of teams he could be dealt to, including the Bruins. The package the Bruins were sending to Calgary included Matt Bartkowski, Alexander Khokhlachev and a first-round draft pick. Instead, Iginla told the Flames he preferred Pittsburgh, and Calgary was left having to accept a lesser package in order to bow to the wishes of Iginla, making the Bruins look like the ugly bride left at the altar.

Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t…yeah, yeah, you know. But Iginla has undoubtedly been a force for the powerful Pittsburgh attack this postseason with four goals and eight assists. His 12 points (eight more than “Plan B” Jaromir Jagr) are fifth in the NHL behind only, oh, teammates Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby, who is two points behind leading playoff point leader David Krejci. Meanwhile, Bartkowski has been a pleasant steadying force on the Bruins’ decimated blueline squad along with Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, who have given Claude Julien the benefit of further resting Wade Redden and Dennis Seidenberg, and even wondering if he’ll even need the services of the former when he’s ready to return.

But at the center of everything is Iginla, the player who spurned the Bruins to play with the star-driven Penguins. The thought of denying him the chance to play for the Cup would have to cross the minds of more than one Bruin, and especially Chiarelli, who looked like Dawn of the Living Dead in the hours after learning Iginla would rather play somewhere else. Egg, meet face.

For now though, the Bruins’ focus can only be on Game 4 and the Rangers. Then they can hope that Ottawa can extend its series against Pittsburgh. If the Bruins sweep New York, and Ottawa can push things to seven, Boston would have at least six days off before the Eastern Conference final. That’s six more days for Redden, Seidenberg, and Andrew Ference; six more days rest for Tuukka Rask.

Then again, the kind of anticipation Bruins-Penguins would bring is likely better bottled up in small doses. So, shall we meet over the long weekend, then?

Do the Rangers really want to come back to Boston anyway? Do us all a favor. There’s little more to be said about this series, and a whole lot potentially to discuss in the matchup that we, deep down, all want.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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