Sundin chasing No. 500

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

In the storied history of the National Hockey League, no player has scored his 500th goal while wearing a Maple Leafs uniform.

Until now.

Barring an unforeseen disaster, Mats Sundin will accomplish that prestigious feat in the near future, joining a prestigious fraternity of 34 other names like Maurice (The Rocket)Richard, Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe.

Sundin scored in the shootout portion of the Leafs 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens last night, but that goal does not count in his stats. As a result, he remains at 497 career goals.

With games tomorrow at home against the Florida Panthers, a date in New Jersey Thursday against the Devils and a Calgary Flames visit to the Air Canada Centre Saturday, Sundin's special moment could come in any of those games.

"It will probably mean more to me once my career is over," Sundin said yesterday. "Right now I'm concentrating more on the day-to-day aspects of the team.

"Don't get me wrong.I know it's special. I couldn't have gotten this far without understanding that I've been fortunate to have played 16 years in this league. Knock on wood, I've been very fortunate with injuries too.

"Obviously it would be something I'm very proud of."

So, too, would his legion of fans back in his native Stockholm, where Sundin's quest to become the first Swede to score 500 goals is being closely monitored.

"It would be huge back home," Swedish legend Borje Salming said last night. "It is a huge accomplishment for someone who has done so much for Swedish hockey."

Despite being moved from the wing to centre after his first two seasons with the Quebec Nordiques, Sundin takes as much pride in scoring goals as he does setting them up.

"For me to be effective or play the best that I can I need to score goals,"he said. "I think I have the ability to be a shooter as much as a passer. I think I've always been a good shooter too.It's what I need to do."

With the milestone so close within reach, the Toronto Sun asked Sundin to recall some of his most memorable goals:

- First goal -- Oct. 4, 1990 at Hartford: "It was my first NHL game, so it was nice to get one early," Sundin said of the 3-3 tie between his Nords and the host Whalers. "I still have the puck. I think it's still at my dad's back in Sweden."

- Most important goal --May 28, 2002 vs. Carolina: With the Leafs facing elimination in the eastern conference final,Sundin scored with just 21.8 seconds remaining to tie the score 1-1. "I guess I'd have to pick that one," he said. "It kept us alive." Not for long. Martin Gelinas scored in overtime, ending the Leaf season.

- Most bizarre goal: "I had a couple that went in off my face," Sundin recalled. "When you stand in front of the net, it hits the goalie, deflects off him, off your face, then in, well, that's about as strange as it gets."


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