Koivu's goal is clear

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The devastation still fresh in his mind, Saku Koivu's eyes welled up as he watched Sweden's Mats Sundin fitted for an Olympic gold medal last month.

Koivu's Team Finland had just suffered a heart-crushing 3-2 defeat to the hated Swedes in the championship game, a bitter pill for a Finnish squad that arguably had been the class of the tournament.

Ever since the two men left the ice that day in Turin, it has been a tale of two captains going in an opposite directions.

Sundin, euphoric at bring gold back to his native Sweden, has been playing his best hockey of the NHL season.

On the other hand, Koivu, disappointed at the silver he won in Italy, has been in a goal-scoring funk.

DRY SPELL

When Sundin's Maple Leafs kick off a two-game set against Koivu's Canadiens tonight in a series that has a real playoff-type feel to it, Montreal coach Bob Gainey is hoping his captain can break out of this lengthy dry spell.

And don't use the Olympic hangover as an excuse. Gainey isn't buying it.

"It has been three weeks since they returned (from Turin) and I think that's enough time to physically recover and transfer those emotional commitments," Gainey said yesterday. "We've played a lot of games like 1-0, 2-1, and guys like Saku and (Alexei) Kovalev have to take it on their shoulders to be difference-makers.

"He will come out of it, hopefully sooner than later. A little more effort, a little more concentration and a little bit of lady luck sprinkled in."

Koivu has not scored in his past 19 NHL games, the longest drought of his career. He hasn't scored for the Canadiens since Jan. 28 when he jammed a puck past Mikael Tellqvist in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

OLYMPICS

"Even though the schedule isn't right for those at the Olympics, I want to put the Olympics behind me. I just have to shoot the puck more," Koivu said.

"You've never seen me score 40 goals. Obviously my style is more that of a passer than before, but I don't think my stats are too far behind where they've usually been."

Koivu, who has 47 points in 58 games, has not lit the red light since signing a three-year, $14.25-million US deal prior to the Olympics.

Leading Toronto by just three points, the Canadiens are nursing a banged-up blue line entering this showdown.

Francis Bouillon won't play because of an ankle injury while Andrei Markov's back spasms and Craig Rivet's ailing hip leave both day to day. Rivet is the better bet to play.


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