Game of chance

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:14 PM ET


 I was a kid of 13 when the captain of the Knicks, Willis Reed, hobbled on to a basketball court for Game 7 of an NBA final he never should have played in -- and the New York audience has never forgotten.

 That image, even now, 34 years later, has never left my mind. The emotion that came from a small black and white television screen is still so evident.

 Those who are older -- at least 50 -- may tell you where they were when Bobby Baun, playing with a fractured bone in his right ankle in 1964, came off a stretcher to score an overtime goal for the Maple Leafs, sending a Stanley Cup final to a seventh game and an eventual Toronto win. It is a highlight everyone has heard about if not seen in scratchy highlights.

 Or younger viewers may recall the World Series home run that a gimpy-legged, pinch-hitting Kirk Gibson hit off the seemingly unhittable Dennis Eckersley in 1988.

 Now we wonder: Is tonight that night for Mats Sundin?

 Can this be his historical moment, his time to define a career in no need of definition, his opportunity to do the improbable? His chance to leave an imprint on a generation of believers?

 There is no indication as to whether the Maple Leafs captain will even play in Game 7 tonight against the Ottawa Senators tonight at the Air Canada Centre. There is pragmatism spoken from his coach, Pat Quinn, and guarded optimism that the best of the Leafs -- "Our horse," defenceman Ken Klee calls him -- can make an appearance when he is needed most.

 Something is wrong with the quadriceps muscle of his left leg. That much we believe. It may be strained. It may be torn. It may be pulled. Typically, no one is saying what it is, or how it happened.

 All Sundin would add to the puzzle is this: The injury came before he was tripped by Wade Redden on a breakaway in Ottawa in Game 4. That just made matters worse.

 This being Sundin, there should be no question about his will to play, or his ability to play hurt. That he has demonstrated historically by the number of times he has played when he shouldn't have -- most recently in other playoff series.

 "I'll give it a try and see how it feels," Sundin said after leisurely skating for more than 30 minutes yesterday, mostly by himself, mostly pushing with his right leg. "I'll give it a good try at the morning skate (today) and see how I feel.

 "I'm just trying to get to the point where I can get in a game ... It was heartbreaking (to watch Game 6 ) ... I'm not trying to give (false hope). I had a light skate. Another day and another night of rest and (this) morning we'll make a decision."

 A decision that won't be taken lightly by either Sundin or Quinn.

 Quinn can do what the Knicks did in 1970, when they taped up Willis Reed, had him limp on to the court and inspire the fans and his team by his mere appearance. He can play that emotional card but not without some kind of peril.

 Would he choose to dress Sundin ostensibly as window dressing, to charge up an already fully charged crowd?

 That, by itself, is not an easy decision at this or any time. The Leafs are undermanned against the Senators. A less than able Sundin may provide emotion but not necessarily prominence in the lineup.

 REASONABLE RISK

 "We've said he'll play when he's ready, and I'm not sure he's ready," Quinn said. "I would never put him at risk for further injury. But if he's at what the medical staff thinks is a reasonable risk, then you measure it out."

 The decision is delicate either way with this series and a season held in the balance. There is little margin for error here, little time to wait.

 But there's a chance, however slim, for Sundin to make a difference. A chance for him to make the kind of history that no one ever sees coming, not from Willis Reed or Bobby Baun or Kirk Gibson. 


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