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Mr. Clutch

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Can a man ever really go home again?

Wow, oh wow, can he ever. Especially if that man is Mats Sundin.

Mr. Clutch used to be a place to get cars fixed, now it’s one of the many titles Sundin will carry after scoring the shootout game-winner to lead the Vancouver Canucks to a 3-2 comeback win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

How else can you describe the player who returns to his old stomping ground and wields his stick with precision in slaying Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala and his former team, with the centre of the universe watching?

After a hard-fought sixty-five minutes left the Canucks and Maple Leafs tied at 2-2, a shootout was all that stood between these teams and an extra point.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, going with his usual suspects, sent Pavol Demitra, Kyle Wellwood and Sundin to centre ice, while Toronto bench boss Ron Wilson responded with Jason Blake, Niklas Hagman and Mikhail Grabovski.

After Blake’s shot was stopped by Roberto Luongo, Demitra tore down the ice and beat Toskala with a quick net nibbler.

Looking to pull the Leafs even, Hagman went in with speed but was also denied by Luongo, that set the stage for Wellwood to end the game.

Lost in all the Sundin commotion was Wellwood, another former Leafs forward making his return to Toronto. Not a selfish player, Wellwood skated in with geriatric speed and barely got the puck off the ice with a shot that wouldn’t have found the back of an empty net.

Luongo is also a team player, so with his team up 1-0, with only Grabovski left to shoot, with the game on his stick needing to score to even things up, with the fans on their feet, with everyone short of breath, Louie through out a poke check and Grabovski scored.

Wellwood and Luongo didn’t actually botch their assignments on purpose, it just seemed like it because of what ensued – a mystical Sundin goal that will have Toronto and Vancouver buzzing for ages.

The former Leafs captain went in on goal with a lot of speed and as his momentum carried him in on Toskala, he faked a shot and went upstairs with a brilliant backhand. Canucks win.

“That was awesome, unbelievable,” a near speechless Alex Burrows said of the finish.

It was a Kodak moment indeed, one made even more special with the reception Sundin got from the crowd at the Air Canada Centre when he took the ice for a ceremonial wave as the game’s first star.

Sundin’s longtime supporters gave him a masterful standing ovation and he responded by blowing kisses and bowing.

This was the second time in the game Sundin was overwhelming saluted by the kind crowd, he also received a mammoth cheer following a short video tribute in the first period.

It was an emotional night to say the very least, but no, Sundin – the heroic, bruiting stallion who is adored throughout the hockey world – didn’t shed a tear. His eyes were just sweating from playing so hard.

“I was probably crying a little bit,” laughed Sundin, who is now 1-for-2 in shootouts this season and 11-for-26 in his career.

“With everything I’ve been going through since last trading deadline, I thought they really showed me a lot of respect and it was amazing.

“As I said, no matter how this game would have ended or if I scored, it wouldn’t have changed my memories or my thoughts of the Leafs, they were always going to be the same, but this certainly ended in a nice way.”

The epic ending to this game was not only brought to you by the letter H, as in the Canucks played with a lot of heart, but also the seemingly endless supply of timely goals Burrows has up his sleeve.

Toronto drew first blood in this game with a power play goal midway through the first period and Vancouver responded at the same point in the second frame with a power play marker of its own.

Matt Stajan then put the Leafs ahead 2-1 five minutes later with a knuckler that Luongo certainly wants back, and that’s how the score remained until the late stages of the third.

Vancouver’s top line was blanketed all night yet just when the Sedins and Burrows looked defeated, they scored an unbelievable goal to tie things up.

Henrik took a pass from Daniel just inside the Toronto blueline, he circled before sending the puck back to his brother. Daniel then let a shot fly towards the goal and Burrows was Johnny-on-the-spot to tip the puck past Toskala.

Two of Burrows’ last three goals have evened the score late in the game to help the Canucks comeback and win. And that’s without mentioning his game-winning breakaway goal that ended Vancouver’s long January winless skid.

We’ll call him mini-clutch.

“I got lucky a little bit on my tip, it was a great play by the twins and I was able to get a stick on it,” Burrows said of his goal, before getting back to the man of the hour in pointing out that Sundin got what was coming to him from the Toronto fans.

“That’s great, that’s what he deserved. He’s a player that’s been so big for that team for so long and he’s done so many great things, that’s what he deserved and he’s a class act and we’re happy to have him on our team.”

You can say that again. Sundin’s goal lifted the Canucks to another two points, they’re now 3-0 on their four-game road trip and have moved six points up on ninth place Minnesota.

2 – Assists for Henrik Sedin, who now has eight points in the last four games (2-6-8)

– Vancouver's record in shootouts his season

5 Comeback wins for the Canucks in February; they are now 8-1-0 this month

Roberto Luongo's record in his last nine starts

11/26 – Mats Sundin's career shootout record; he's 1-for-2 this season

For as bad as the Canucks played in the opening two periods, they were just good enough to stay within striking distance when it mattered.

Vancouver showed a lot of heart in not rolling over and continuing to get pucks on net in the final period, they only got nine shots on goal but Burrows tipped in the one that counted.

The Canucks have now won two straight shootouts, a feat that was seemingly impossible just a short while ago.

Vancouver was outshot by Toronto 38-37.

When Toronto had the puck in the Vancouver zone, it brought back memories of keep away from grade school.

The Leafs circled the puck around the Canucks with ease and Vancouver was unable to clear when given the chance.

Still, the defence bent but didn't break, even in overtime with Toronto on the power play.

Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell were beasts on this night with ferocious play and Roberto Luongo won his eighth straight start making 36 saves.

A lack of snap on the power play almost cost the Canucks as midway through the second they failed to score on a four-minute power play.

It wasn't just bad, it was ugly, as Vancouver failed to record a shot on goal; luckily Burrows tied the game up shortly after.

Vancouver finished 1-for-5 on the PP with Sami Salo's opening goal the only positive.

On the penalty kill the Canucks were decent holding the Maple Leafs to 1-for-5 and only two shots.
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