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Leafs Getting Ready To Face Pens

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
(TORONTO) -- ``Congratulations, Mats.''


The call came from Darryl Sittler from Florida, and Mats Sundin appreciated the long-distance pat on the back after he broke Sittler's goals and points records that had stood since 1982.

``It was very nice of him,'' Sundin said the morning after making club history during the Toronto Maple Leafs' 8-1 romp over the New York Islanders.

The record feat quickly made it to Sweden, too.

``I talked to my parents and it's all over the news there,'' said Sundin.

He has saved the stick and the puck, and now a new challenge is upon the Leafs - Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins skate into Air Canada Centre on Saturday night (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).

``It's nice to have it out of the way,'' Sundin said of the club records. ``The respect I got from the crowd, I'll remember that for the rest of my life.

``It was a great moment and now we'll move on.''

The Leafs were a light-hearted bunch at practice Friday. The big win was a blast of sunshine that pierced the cloud of despair that had hung over them following a 7-1 home loss to Carolina on Tuesday.

Besides Sundin, one of the happiest Leafs was Matt Stajan. The two are 1-2 in team scoring. Sundin has two goals and six assists, while Stajan has three goals and three assists.

``I trained hard during the summer and came to camp with confidence,'' said Stajan. ``It's easier to play when you have confidence in yourself.

``I'm just trying to roll with it right now.''

The fourth-year pro is showing all the signs of having a breakout season.

He does a lot of power lifting in the gym. He's just under 200 pounds and a lot of it is muscle now, which makes him an effective checker and more difficult to knock off the puck when he has it on his stick. Added scoring punch could help him evolve into a player in the mold of another centre who wore 14 as a Leaf - Dave Keon.

Stajan says big-league experience is making a big difference.

``I think I'm just more mature,'' said the 23-year-old native of neighbouring Mississauga. ``I've grown as a player.''

He doesn't get down on himself quite as much now when he errs.

``In previous years, if I made mistakes I started to worry maybe I'd be on the fourth line the next day,'' he explained. ``I used to get rattled when I didn't win a faceoff, but I've come to realize that even the best players in the world make mistakes.''

Coach Paul Maurice is more and more viewing Stajan as one of the safest players to put on the ice.

``He can compete at both ends of the rink,'' says Maurice. ``He's matured to the point where we want him on the ice whether he's got the hot stick or not.

``The nice this is that he's got room to grow yet. He's put himself on track to get better and stronger each year.''

Maurice wouldn't tip his hand on who he'll start in goal against the Penguins. He said he liked the performances by Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft in their last starts so his decision won't be a tough one.

``I think you're going to make a good one either way,'' said Maurice.

Left-winger Alexei Ponikarovsky's left leg remains sore and he did not join the practure so Maurice will go with the same skaters he used against the Islanders.
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