PHILADELPHIA -- As the media camped around Mats Sundin yesterday, one scowling Maple Leaf across the dressing room snapped "why don't you guys leave him alone?"
Sundin did look like he'd rather be anywhere than getting grilled at the Wachovia Center. But this is becoming a typical day at the office for the captain, the club's hottest scorer and, at the same time, its most frustrated senior member.
He's stuck with explaining his team's imminent ouster from the playoffs while trying not to sound defeatist in what will be his 11th year in Toronto without a Stanley Cup.
On Thursday night, Sundin went from the elation of a last-minute goal against the Boston Bruins, his second point in the game and 11th in seven games, to failure in the shootout. The Leafs seventh shootout loss in 10 games made for a grim picture in the standings when all the teams ahead of them made ground. Despite the Leafs earning points in six straight games (4-0-2) and points in 12 of the past 16 games, they have not gained one point on the eighth-place Tampa Bay Lightning since the Olympic break.
It certainly was out of character for him to evade the media after Thursday's game by taking a side door out of the rink, and he was the first to bolt when formal practice ended here yesterday.
"It sucks any time you lose points at this part of the season, it's devastating," Sundin said. "We still think we have a chance to make it and we should be proud of the way we have played the past two weeks."
There are only six games to make up seven points and pass two teams, starting here tonight. It was put to coach Pat Quinn whether Sundin is being worn down by the lack of results to show for his fine play.
"There's a lot be said for how you conduct yourself during times of adversity," Quinn said.
"That's what leaders do. You have to be the pro who accepts the accountability for what happens and Mats is good that way. A lot of our young people will hopefully learn from his example, how to play year-round hockey. And I'm not just blaming the young guys. We have some veterans who were not the responsible leaders we needed to have (earlier this year)."
Sundin had a goal and assist at Wachovia last week in a one-goal win over the Flyers.
Sundin's 1-for-7 shootout mark, however, is a blemish.
"The shootout is a crap-shoot, let's be honest," Sundin said. "Once you go in there, any guy can score and any goalie can stop it.
"We didn't have a lot of shootouts up until Christmas and now we haven't had a lot that were successful. I don't know why. There are a lot of points (left) on the table."