Sundin steals the show

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

He has scored bigger goals and played on more important nights, but rarely has Mats Sundin gone through such an emotional journey all in the course of one NHL game.

Cheers, jeers, tears and for the ultimate drama, the picture-perfect winner against his old team.

Yes, the night was all about the former Maple Leafs captain from start to finish, including Sundin's shootout sizzler to beat Vesa Toskala and give the Vancouver Canucks a riveting 3-2 win.

"Whether you are 38 years old or 7, that's the stuff you dream about," Sundin said of the winner. "It was exciting to get this chance."

In some ways, the Canucks were fortunate that they even had the opportunity to cue the stirring Sundin moment, one he later admitted was among the greatest of his career.

Responding to the energy of the 19,504 at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs turned in one of their stronger outings and after killing off a four-minute power play midway through the third, it looked like a 2-1 lead might, for once, hold up.

But when Alex Burrows tipped home a shot from the point with 3:57 remaining to tie the score at 2-2, the buzz in the building foreshadowed the rest of the plot.

After skating through an entertaining overtime session, the teams were tied 1-1 in the shootout after the third Leafs shooter, Mikhail Grabovski, beat Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo.

With a chance for the win and the stage all his, Sundin delivered in spectacular fashion.

Moving in on Toskala, the big Swede used one of his favourite moves -- a fake to the forehand followed by a backhand ripped high to the corner.

"We all knew what he was going to do on the bench," forward Matt Stajan said. "I guess it worked for him. It's a good story. It was his moment."

And it wasn't the only one.

Sundin was humbled by the standing ovation he received after a video tribute was aired in the first period.

He got another huge roar when he was named the first star and returned to the ice, bowing gallantly to the crowd he played in front of for 13 years.

"(Sundin has) been doing a lot of good things for us and we've been on a roll," said Burrows, whose team has won eight of its past nine as it works to cement a Western Conference playoff spot. "He was the difference between winning and losing."

The loss spoiled a decent effort by the Leafs, who have dropped five of their past six.

Jason Blake, who is a different player than Sundin can remember, scored his 22nd of the season to open the scoring 12:26 into the first. Blake deflected a point shot by Pavel Kubina for the power-play goal.

That lead held up until 9:49 of the second when Sami Salo's power-play goal tied it for the Canucks.

The Leafs restored their one-goal lead on Stajan's short-handed marker at 16:11 of the second and with Toskala looking strong in net seemed poised for a mild upset.

"It was a great atmosphere, a lot of intensity," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "(Toskala) was outstanding. He was moving, he looked fresh. It's just too bad he struggles in the shootout."

And too bad he had to face a former teammate who on this night, had all the right moves.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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