Mats, Nieuwy put on show

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Before Joe Nieuwendyk joined a post-game gathering of family and friends last night, the former Maple Leaf did his best to spoil a different party.

For much of a wild game at the Air Canada Centre, a hat trick by the Florida Panthers centre had the Leafs' obituary-writers on high alert.

In the end, Nieuwendyk was one-upped by his former captain, as Mats Sundin's four goals and two assists stole the show and a 6-5 overtime win for the Leafs.

"I'm not as old as him yet, he's over 40," Sundin said with a laugh, slightly embellishing the 39-year-old's age. "He played a great game. That's tough. What kind of character to come out and play a game like he did even though the season is over for them.

"But he showed the way like he's always done his career."

Of course, the combined 10 points by the Toronto captain and his former teammate only added to the frustration of Leafs fans. Many hoped the two would be together this season as they were prior to the lockout.

Nieuwendyk was ready to play for the Leafs prior to the 2004-05 season. When that campaign was erased and the economics of the NHL changed, he joined Gary Roberts as a snowbird and went to Florida.

"That was quite a show by those two," Leafs forward Darcy Tucker said. "Nieuwy's breakaway goal was beautiful.

"Mats has been hitting the net from everywhere. I don't think I've ever seen a game like that before in my career. Six points, four goals ... it's a national-league effort for sure by one of the great players in the league."

After venting his frustration at the Panthers giving up five power-play goals last night, Nieuwendyk praised Sundin's leadership which he grew to admire in his time here.

"Mats was a great captain and a good friend," said Nieuwendyk, who bumped his season goal total to 25. "He's the leader of that team and he shows why. He sometimes takes some abuse around here but this guy cares as much as any captain I've ever played with.

"He steps his game up when he has to and you can't say enough about him."

As much as he would have preferred to remain a Maple Leaf, Nieuwendyk said he has no hard feelings towards the organization.

"I had a great experience here," Nieuwendyk said. "I have nothing but good things to say about them. They are a classy organization."


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