Quietly spectacular

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:04 PM ET

The magic is in the quiet.

"Guys like Mats have a knack of making it look like they don't see you but they really do," Jeff O'Neill was saying last night.

"I played with Ron Francis. He would always tell you never to yell for the puck. He always knew you were out there."

The Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in overtime in a game that deeded new heroes by the minute. In the end though, it came down to the same one as usual. The quiet guy.

"He's among the very best I've played with," Ed Belfour said. "Great teammate. Always behind you. Great out in the public."

Forests have been felled to describe Mats Sundin in these pages. He is 34. He has spent a third of his life working here and he has yet to say anything to make you to notice him more or like him less.

He has garnered 12 points in 11 games since returning from a facial injury and despite the tall shadows of Eric Lindros, O'Neill, Belfour and Jason Allison, this remains his team more than ever. The Leafs, an intriguing collection of disparate parts, are bound by the man in the middle.

For Sundin, it has been a productive though not necessarily easy return.

"The first few games you play, you're just happy to be back playing," Sundin said. "Reality sets in and you have to be ready to play three or four games a week."

The Leafs broke from the gate early last night.

The most telling moment came with three minutes left in the first when Chad Kilger, Bryan McCabe, O'Neill and Lindros roared out of their end four abreast on a sequence that never included a Canadiens possession and ended with Kilger's fourth goal of the year.

Allison already had scored and things were looking very good indeed.

Everywhere you looked, a Leaf was making a play.

Nik Antropov looked like his knees weren't a feature spread in Popular Surgeries.

Tomas Kaberle and McCabe intercepted desperate Canadiens clearing passes like Ted Saskin counting yes votes.

The Leafs outshot the Habs 16-7 and how did you know, it all had to end.

Just as unaccountably, the Habs evened matters in the second period.

A shot from Mike Ribeiro burrowed its way through Belfour's equipment and into the net. An honest tip-in, this one off the stick of Alexander Perezhogin, tied things.

It fell to Sundin to deliver a vintage play for his 1,100th NHL point when he veered into the Montreal end and put a pass right on O'Neill's stick for O'Neill's 11th goal of the year.

It was a startling play, impeccably well-timed and built on deception. Sundin pulled his stick back as if to shoot and then threaded the pass to the fortunate O'Neill at the precise instinct the veteran winger found an inch of space beside Montreal goalie Jose Theodore.

"It seems when the game is on the line, guys like that always pop their heads up," O'Neill said of Francis and Sundin. "That's the kind of guys they are, they rise to the occasion and do great things."

It's the quiet guys.

The Canadiens tied it when they stripped Allison of the puck deep in the Montreal end. Tomas Plekanec wristed a shot past Belfour with just under five minutes to play.

But at the end of regulation, a hustle play by Antropov near the Montreal end prompted Craig Rivet to lunch at the hulking Leafs forward. Antropov went down, an official's arm went up. "I was heading toward the net. It was a penalty," Antropov said. The Canadiens were unimpressed.

Sundin ended things in overtime when his pass across the crease bounced of a Montreal defender's skate and back on to his stick for an easy goal.

It was the latest turnaround in a night full of them. The Leafs, who played unspectacularly in Carolina and poorly in Boston, were listing in a key sector of the schedule.

They have been reprieved, at least until Monday in Florida.

Same old story. Saved by the Swede.


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