Sundin off to a slow start

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:37 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- In his first playoff game in five years, Mats Sundin was judged the fifth-best ex-Maple Leaf on the ice.

Kyle Wellwood of the Vancouver Canucks and the three former Toronto first-round draft picks -- Brad Boyes, Carlo Colaiacovo and Alexander Steen with the St. Louis Blues -- were all considered more impressive.

Minus the rust which made Sundin look like a 1971 junkyard Volvo when, after nine months off, he showed up in Edmonton to play his first game with the Canucks with a $5.625-million US contract in his hockey pants, Sundin's first playoff game was another non-event.

If it's possible for a 6-foot-5 player with a famous face and No. 13 on his back to be invisible in his long-awaited return to the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Big Swede came close in the Canucks' 2-1 win in the opening game of the series.

Sundin was expected to be in mid-season form by now. Exactly mid-season form.

He played 41 regular-season games for his $5 million and change.

The whole concept of paying Sundin the big bucks as a rental player was to have the horse and force he was all his career, including last season in Toronto, to give the Canucks the second-line support to Daniel and Henrik Sedin in the playoffs.

No goals. No assists. No points. Two shots. One give-away. No takeaways.

At 38, the question going into this Stanley season, was if Sundin would have something to give the Canucks he never managed to provide in the regular season in which he contributed 28 points and finished without a goal in his final 13 games.

"I think the playoffs will answer that question," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said prior to the start of the series.

"Nine months off is a long time, so the playoffs will tell us if he has another gear to go to."

In Game 1, he didn't.

Asked after practice yesterday to judge Sundin's first playoff game, Vigneault dodged the issue by saying: "It's important for every player to play better."

The coach added that the man expected to push this underachieving franchise over the top, is trying to make it happen.

"Nobody wants it more than he does. Nobody works harder," Vigneault said.

Judging from Game 1, Sundin is not going to be able to get it done. Although, listening to him after practice yesterday, you'd never know it.

"I felt good," he said. "We didn't create as many chances as we should, but my line and myself did a pretty good job," he said of mates Ryan Kessler and Pavol Demitra.

Asked if it's fair for anybody to expect him to look like the player he was the last time he was in the playoffs, Sundin didn't hesitate to respond.

"I think so," he said.

Does it seem like five years ago?

"No it doesn't."

It may not be fair to put such a focus on a player after one playoff game, especially his first one in five years, but the sad part of it is that Sundin didn't go into the playoffs with anywhere near the focus that you would have expected when his signing was first announced. The focus was a complete contrast to what it was like here in his first month or more.

It's like the people here have come to the conclusion or realization that he's on his last legs, is going to take a lot of 25-second shifts, stay out of the corners yet find his place behind and beside the net where he can still score goals. They hope he picks the right time and place to do it so he can be a Stanley Cup playoff hero in a game one last time or two before he skates off into the sunset.

Maybe it will be tonight or sometime during the next two weeks or next two months when it won't look like the end, when Mats Sundin will make it happen again.

For Sundin, just playing in another playoff game, his 84th, was happening enough for him in Game 1.

"It was an awesome feeling," he said.

More awesome in the feeling than in the watching.


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