Heartbreaker for Sundin

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

At age 36, Mats Sundin knows he is running out of opportunities to win that Stanley Cup he so desperately covets.

That point became painfully evident last night when he was forced to watch that heart-wrenching 3-2 shootout victory by the New York Islanders over the New Jersey Devils, an outcome that left his Maple Leafs out of the playoffs once again.

"I was bouncing out of my chair and screaming when the Devils tied it up in the final few seconds," a dejected Sundin said last night. "I really thought Jersey was going to pull it off because they are so good playing four-on-four (in overtime) and in shootouts."

No such luck. When the Devils' Sergei Brylin was thwarted by Isles goalie Wade Dubielewicz to finish off the shootout, reality set in for the Leafs captain: Another season of coming up short.

It's enough to make a guy consider hanging up the blades, as several reports have suggested the classy Swede might do.

But once again, as he has insisted all season, Sundin considers such scuttlebutt to be nonsense. Yesterday, he said that his top priority is to remain a Leaf.

"It's disappointing," Sundin said. "Every year, I get more and more hungry. I've been around in this league a long time and, to miss the playoffs a second year in a row, well, that's frustrating.

"I haven't thought much about (the future). I've been too busy looking toward the playoffs. But nothing has changed. I want to play here."

The Leafs would like that to happen, and reportedly want to ink the pending free agent to a two-year deal over the summer.

Sundin will cost the Leafs about $6.3 million US on their 2007 salary cap should they decide to pick up the team option on him. The team likely would rather cut him loose, than take a run at signing him to a new deal that is more economically favourable to the cap.

Much was made of Sundin's late-season goal drought, one that saw him score just once in his final 20 games. But overlooked by his critics is the fact that he had 20 assists in that span including three in the Leafs' nail-biting 6-5 victory over the rival Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

As he joins his teammates cleaning out lockers today, Sundin will reflect on the season.

"Obviously it's frustrating we didn't play better on Long Island," he said of Toronto's 5-2 loss to the Isles last week. "It's tough to analyze things. We had a lot of injuries. There are a lot of ifs and buts. I've never seen a season come down to the last shot like this did."


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