Sundin's goal is secondary

BILL LANKHOF

, Last Updated: 7:17 AM ET

What's the scariest thing in hockey?

The Maple Leafs with a 4-1 lead.

This was a game the Toronto team had won. Up by three midway through the second period, it had a 4-2 lead with less than five minutes to play.

"We made some strange decisions with the puck," coach Paul Maurice said. "We have a lot of young players who make some great plays and we have a lot of young players who make some bad plays ... and sometimes it's the same player."

So, there was room for humour and honesty all in the same thought, after his team survived to fight another night with a 5-4 overtime win. But, as in Buffalo, the Leafs insisted on making their fans sweat. This time they just found a happier ending. It shouldn't have been this difficult.

Sidney Crosby scored at 15:22 of the third to cut Toronto's lead to 4-3 and cue apprehension.

"Then we got the power play and we wanted to finish them there. Then we had the puck in their end with 20 seconds left (and leading 4-3) and I definitely thought it was over," admitted Kyle Wellwood. "These things keep happening to us; guess it's what makes sports exciting."

A record crowd at the Air Canada Centre of 19,649 was starting the celebration in the stands. They thought it was over, too.

Suddenly, Ryan Whitney stood alone in the slot. The puck hit the top corner past Andrew Raycroft. Four seconds stood on the clock. A fan collapsed in the stands and, as paramedics resuscitated him the biggest crowd in history might also have been quietest.

At first, the Leafs were as bewildered at what was happening in the seats as they were about what just happened on the ice.

"I thought it was a fight," Raycroft said. "I figured by 10 o'clock a few people had been drinking for a while and those things happen. Then I saw they had a pump. It was distressing."

Until then the only hiccup of the night seemed to be that Mats Sundin continues losing his race to catch Darryl Sittler as Toronto's career leading scorer. He failed to score for the eighth consecutive game and has just one goal in Toronto's past 16 games. He has 388 goals, one short of Sittler. His coaches are not worried.

Sundin says he's not worried. His teammates say they're not worried. And for 59 minutes and 56 seconds last night nobody else was worried either.

Sundin had two assists. He's making Nik Antropov look like Cam Neely some nights. So, if it's the only race Sundin and Co. lose this season, nobody's complaining. They let the lesser lights shine.

Like when Chad Kilger scored his third in three games. Like Alex Steen helping neutralize the Penguins power play which had scored half of its 18 goals against Toronto coming into last night's game.

Like Raycroft, who stopped Michel Ouellet and the Crosby phenomenon during a two-man Pittsburgh power play to open the third. He plucked Jordan Staal's drive out of the air with his glove -- the Penguin staring up into the rafters.

"Those kind look good, but," Raycroft said, there were tougher. None more timely than a kick save on the pesky Whitney in overtime. It could've been curtains for 2007.

"When they tied it like that it was heartbreaking," Wellwood said, admitting there were flashbacks to a Friday Fright Night in Buffalo. As the team sat quietly near the bench Wellwood said the delay helped. "The one thing we talked about was that we had to win in overtime (because) they're such a good shootout team. We had to go for glory."

Sundin's slapper was turned back. When he shoots it's like someone throws the Starship Enterprise Force Field over the net. The swells in the ACC were on their feet screaming with excitement -- and for once it wasn't for more sushi. Wellwood won a faceoff, the puck found its way to Kaberle. Salvation! Cue pandemonium.

"When you win," Wellwood said, "you don't worry how you did it. You're just happy." And, on the first morning of the last week of the season, that's enough.


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