Sundin has a lot on the line

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

For every one of Mats Sundin's 13 seasons as a Maple Leaf he has said pretty much the same thing.

How much he likes his hockey team. How much he believes in them. What a great bunch of guys they all are.

All of it said with wide-eyed optimism, a small dose of naivete and typical Sundin honesty.

What he hasn't said very often or with any kind of sincerity is how much he has loved the lines he has played with over the years. A few spins around the ice with Jonas Hoglund and Mikael Renberg and Derek King can do that to a guy, even a true be-Leaf-er like Sundin.

But if opening night at the Air Canada Centre is anything to be believed -- even in overtime defeat -- maybe all that is about to change.

The Leafs, for the first time in a long time, look like they have a first line.

A real first line.

The kind of first line that has all kinds of different looks with three very different hockey players.

"They looked dangerous," said Bryan Murray, the Ottawa general manager, somewhat surprised. "They looked good."

For too many seasons it has been all Sundin, all the time and not a whole lot else. If he didn't carry the first line there was no real first line.

But on opening night of a new season, the oldest and baldest kid in the rink -- "I'm not that old, am I?" said Sundin -- playing with a torn labrum of the hip, on a one-year contract, the longtime captain didn't look like he was anywhere near the finish line.

In fact, this had new beginning written all over it.

He played with that kind of jump. He played with that much emotion. He made that many sound plays. Especially early on.

"It was fun," said Sundin, who doesn't often refer to a loss as fun. "We've been off since the middle of April of last year. It has been a long time."

It has been a long time since the Leafs had a legitimate No. 1 unit. Pat Quinn didn't believe in them. Mike Murphy didn't have one. Doug Gilmour was a first line all by himself. And really, how long has it been since Darryl Sittler centred Lanny McDonald and Errol Thompson?

Sundin, Nik Antropov and Jason Blake are by no means the Sittler line, but for now they'll do.

Antropov is huge, slow and somewhat skilled. Blake is tiny, speedy and very skilled. Sundin is Sundin: He can still be world class.

"I think we played well enough to win," Blake said. "It's disappointing to play this way and lose."

"I'm not even sure they're in sync yet," coach Paul Maurice said. "It was only their third game together."

Before the game and the Leafs season was only 14 minutes old, Antropov already had two goals. Sundin set up both. Blake had an assist.

While the result was same-old, same-old, there had to be elements last night that brought smiles to the face of John Ferguson, the general manager for the minute. Blake was his signing. Not letting Antropov go free-agent was his doing. Bringing Sundin back was something he was adamant about.

On paper, Maurice had this combination scribbled down, almost from the minute he first looked at his roster. On paper it made some sense.

On the ice, it looked even better last night against the high-end Senators. While they're not exactly Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, no one is asking them to duplicate one of the league's greatest combinations.

But with Kyle Wellwood out for an unspecified period of time and with the Leafs relatively thin up front otherwise, they need a line to carry them.

And for once, after all these years of loving his team, his teammates, everything that has been Maple Leaf, Mats Sundin may be loving his line -- the most versatile and gifted trio he has known in Toronto. On an opening night defeat for the Leafs, at least there was something to celebrate.


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