500th a show-stopper

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Mats Sundin has performed some amazing feats among 499 regular-season goals, but how about a game-winning, short-handed, overtime hat trick, milestone for No. 500?

Yes, the Maple Leafs' Swedish captain did it in style last night, slaying the Calgary Flames 5-4 with Darcy Tucker in the penalty box. It seemed the Leafs were doomed at that stage, only to have Sundin break out and wire his third of the night past Miikka Kiprusoff.

He became the 35th National Hockey Leaguer to reach 500, first to do it in a Leafs sweater, and he tied Dave Keon for second in team history with 365 goals. The Leafs bench emptied in joy and the ovation from 19,338 at the Air Canada Centre crowd stayed right through Sundin's first-star introduction. The visibly emotional Sundin lingered on the ice and clapped along in recognition of their salute.

He had just one goal in Toronto's first five games.

"I didn't want that (chase to 500) hanging over me for 10 or 20 games," a beaming Sundin said later as he took teammates' and club officials' congratulations in the dressing room. "I've had games where I've had four, five and six shots and nothing has gone in. You'll remember a night like this after you retire."

Of his intimate moment with the crowd, he said: "I've played here many years and I'm very proud to get this goal. Toronto hasn't won a championship since 1967 and the fans keep coming out. You can't say enough about how loyal they are."

Coach Paul Maurice also recognized Sundin for helping him sell the whole dressing room on a change of philosophy.

"He had worked his butt off through camp and (until last night) had nothing to show," Maurice said. "He's more involved in the leadership of the room than most people give him credit for. Now he has 500 goals -- and remember, he doesn't play against the third defensive unit."

Sundin's first thought was killing the controversial Tucker hooking penalty, not scoring his league-leading 15th overtime goal.

"But I looked around and (Leafs defencemen) Hal Gill and Bryan McCabe were going to the net on an odd-man rush when we have just three guys on the ice. In that situation you want to put a shot on net (and not risk a pass being picked off)."

Sundin said it was too late to call his family in Sweden to share the moment, but younger brother Per was at the game.

Tucker was called with just 7.2 seconds remaining by rookie ref Justin St. Pierre for what seemed to be routine contact on Daymond Langkow. The penalties were 7-2 against the Flames at that point.

The Leafs were 4:10 away from their fourth shootout in a row, which would have tied the NHL high from last year's introduction of the tie-breaking formula. Toronto remains two points back of Buffalo for the Northeast Division lead.

For the fourth time this season, the Leafs fired more than 40 shots, but are sitting on just one regulation win. They also have beaten two of the best in the business in Kiprusoff and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, a combined 11 times in two nights.

"We keep putting the odds in our favour," Sundin said. "We play a high-pressure upbeat game. That's the new NHL."

Another sidebar to the game was a crowd packed with Flames fans for that team's rare visit, and a one-on-one duel between Albertans Dion Phaneuf of the Flames and Tucker. Blanked along with the rest of the Toronto shooters last year against Kiprusoff in Calgary, Tucker had a goal and assist and jawed with the hard-rock Flames rearguard, before flooring him with a late second-period body check.

Snake-bitten Alex Steen's first goal of the season, including exhibition, was a vital one, stopping a three-goal Calgary rally in the second period. He was on his stomach grappling with Kiprusoff when he jammed in a Matt Stajan rebound.

Mark Giordano, the Flames' Toronto-born defenceman, had his first two NHL goals against a sometimes shaky Andrew Raycroft.

Six passes exchanged before Kyle Wellwood slipped the puck through the crease to a wide-open Tucker, while McCabe found Sundin at the end of a Leafs' 5-on-3 to make it 2-0. Matthew and Langkow had the other Calgary goals.

The Leafs made minor adjustments to handle Michael Peca's absence, moving John Pohl between Chad Kilger and Steen, but Pohl had his problems in the new role.

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REPORT CARD

B- Forwards: Sundin supplied most of the clout on the first line and Matt Stajan did well, but the third line missed the injured Michael Peca.

C Defence: No one really stepped up, but Ian White might have taken a step back. Maurice paired Jay Harrison and Brendan Bell.

C- Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft gave up four in a limited workload, triggering one short-handed goal himself.


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