Sundin keeps hope alive
Leafs 6 Panthers 5
(OT): Two points plus Tampa Bay's loss mean it's not over
CAPTAIN DRAWS FOUR OF A KIND V. PANTHERS
Mats Sundin was a man among boys last night as he scored four goals and assisted on the other two in Toronto's 6-5 overtime victory over the Florida Panthers at the Air Canada Centre.
TORONTO - With huge thanks owing to Mats Sundin, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. can hold fans' post-season ticket deposits another day.
In a performance that -- if the Toronto Maple Leafs somehow complete their late season scramble for the playoffs -- will go down in team history, Toronto's captain scored four goals and assisted on two others in a 6-5 overtime win over the Florida Panthers.
Just 11 seconds from the shootouts that have been a bugaboo for Toronto all season, Tomas Kaberle's power-play goal gave Toronto a win. It was the team's eighth straight game earning at least a point.
Seven years and a day after Steve Sullivan notched the last four-goal game in Leaf history, Sundin's six-point night negated a hat trick by former Leaf Joe Nieuwendyk that nearly carried Florida to a win.
Sundin, whose leadership skills are sometimes questioned, said he made no promises to carry his team to victory in what was very close to a must-win game.
"Sports doesn't happen that way, I think, any more," he said. "I wish I said before the game that I was going to go out and score four goals."
Now with eight goals and nine assists in the past eight games, Sundin tried to downplay his impact last night.
"There's probably nights this year where I've played better hockey," he said. "Tonight you had a night where, hey, I played a good game, but the puck seems to follow you, every shot you take it goes in the net and you have good screens and that's sports."
Other Leafs disagreed.
"It's one of the single best performances I've seen an individual make," said winger Darcy Tucker, whom Sundin almost knocked to the ice while celebrating his first goal of the night.
"He's been the leader on and off the ice since I've been here," said Kaberle. "He might be the greatest player in the whole league since the Olympics."
Coach Pat Quinn, who entered the game facing a season without playoffs for the first time in his tenure as Maple Leafs coach, was also impressed.
"It was quite a performance for sure," Quinn said. "For the last while he's been a step up. I guess he has high standards anyway, but the kind of game like tonight, he was all over. He wanted the puck, he got it in some good spots, he finished off well, won faceoffs, killed penalties. He did everything."
The game was a microcosm of the Maple Leafs' roller-coaster season. They fell behind 2-0, tied the score three times, went ahead, gave up the lead and weathered minor penalties at 17:58 of the third period and 1:30 into overtime.
Starting his eighth straight game for Toronto, J.S. Aubin was not as spectacular as he has been at times in the seven previous games, though most of Florida's goals were the result of defensive breakdowns.
"I can't explain the mistakes on the rush, we just totally missed it, it was misread on everyone," said Quinn. "On the first one, poor read and our forward got caught too deep and our defencemen didn't read it right. The second one, third one and fourth one were all just really bad missed assignments."
But Toronto also cracked the 40-shot plateau for the first time this season, outshooting the Panthers 53-26 on the night.
"Except for those mistakes that cost a goal nearly every time, we didn't give them very much and we generated probably our best night of the season, maybe, for scoring opportunities and shots as well so there were a lot of good things in it," Quinn said. "Maybe that is the microcosm of our season. Lots of good stuff and mistakes we paid dearly for."
The result kept Toronto in position, if barely so, to catch a Tampa Bay team that Atlanta demolished 6-2 last night. The Leafs also retained an outside chance of overtaking seventh-place Montreal.
A loss would have put Toronto hopelessly in arrears of the Canadiens, while a loss combined with Tampa Bay earning even a single point would have officially left the Maple Leafs free to book tee times for a week from today.
According to Tucker at least, until the math no longer allows them to think of the playoffs, the Leafs will believe they can sneak in to the post-season.
"I know it's stupid, but we're just playing," he said. "There's opportunity. We've just got to keep winning. That's all there is to it."
Mats Sundin's four goals last night put him in company with these players who who also had big games wearing the Maple Leaf.
- Darryl Sittler, Feb. 7, 1976, v. Boston
- Charlie Conacher, Jan. 19, 1932, v. N.Y. Americans
- Howie Meeker, Jan. 8, 1947, v. Chicago
- Ian Turnbull, Feb. 2, 1977, v. Detroit
4 GOALS (SINCE 1960)
- Frank Mahovlich, Nov. 5, 1960, v. N.Y. Rangers
- Frank Mahovlich, Dec. 11, 1960, at Chicago
- Rick Vaive, Dec. 21, 1983, v. St. Louis
- Miroslav Frycer, Jan. 8, 1986, v. Edmonton
- Wendel Clark, Oct. 11, 1986, v. Buffalo
- Wendel Clark, Nov. 9, 1996, v. Edmonton
- Yanic Perreault, April 7, 1999, v. Ottawa
- Steve Sullivan, April 10, 1999, v. Florida