TAMPA - It's a simple enough sounding task: stop Jarome Iginla. Just like it was stop Keith Primeau, stop Mike Ribeiro and stop Alexei Yashin in the Lightning's three previous rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But the Lightning, specifically defensemen Pavel Kubina and Darryl Sydor, might have found the most complicated task of all in trying to contain Iginla, the Flames' dynamic sniper who tied for the league lead with 41 goals this season and leads the playoffs with 11.
Whereas the Islanders' Yashin, the Canadiens' Ribeiro and Flyers' Primeau were dangerous in their own ways, the Flames captain combines the best of all three: speed, skill, tenacity, and a mean streak, which made for one ornery package for the Lightning to contain.
"Jarome is a workhorse out there," Flames forward Chris Simon said. "And he's one of the best players in the league."
Iginla's short-handed, breakaway goal at 15:21 of the second period effectively ended the Lightning's night in an eventual 4-1 loss in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. But his abrasive presence was evident against the Lightning during the entire game.
After the Lightning's Andre Roy came out hitting in the first period, Iginla did not wait for one of his bodyguards to respond. He tailed Roy around the rink for a few choice words as soon as they were on the ice together, then took a swing at the Lightning's Dave Andreychuk after they tangled chasing a puck.
While his shift-by-shift play was grindingly troublesome for the Lightning, his goal was sudden and devastating. Iginla put himself into position when he finished a check on Fredrik Modin along the right boards, then followed him to the high point as the puck cycled low. When Andreychuk's pass skipped over Modin's stick and out of the zone, there was no one between him and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, and no one with the speed to catch him. Khabibulin made an initial glove save, but as Modin circled around the right of the net, Iginla followed the puck left, recovered it and swooped back to flick it over a sprawled Khabibulin. The eventual winner gave the Flames a 2-0 lead.
"I knew it was going to be a breakaway and I went in there and had a lot of time to think about it," Iginla said. "I stopped to watch it. I thought it might roll in. Usually you don't get two chances, and it was nice to see that one cross the line."
"Huge break for us," center Craig Conroy said. "They had a nice set up and luckily the ice slowed that one down enough for him to get to it. That's the turning point of the game."
Andreychuk said the goal was "tough to bounce back from."
Iginla has been a huge part of a Flames team that has erupted from a sixth seed in the Westto a steamroller that eliminated division champions Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose, all more talented teams as a collective, but none with an Iginla. Seven of Iginla's goals and 10 of his points have come on the road, where the Flames are 9-2 and winners of five straight.
Iginla's line, which teams him with Conroy and Martin Gelinas, has accounted for 23 of the team's 50 goals and 25 of 69 assists in the playoffs. Gelinas scored off a pass from Conroy at 3:02 of the first for a 1-0 lead.
"They're good players and they work hard," Simon said. "Jarome seeks out pucks and (Conroy) is continuing to a get a lot of respect for being a great player. I love the way they work."