By Matthew Iaboni
November 5, 2005
(Toronto)-- The Maple Leafs were glad to have Mats Sundin back in the lineup and so was Leafs Nation.
When public address announcer Andy Frost announced Sundin's name to start the game the crowd let out a huge roar and maybe a sigh of relief.
With Sundin leading the offensive charge it was Ed Belfour who once again held down the fort after the Lightning made it a 4-3 game in the third.
Playing on a line with Jeff O'Neill and Alexei Ponikarovsky, Sundin set up his teammates numerous times in the early going and finally O'Neill converted a Sundin pass to put the Leafs up 1-0.
"He (O'Neill) and Alexei Ponikarovsky played well," Sundin said after the game. "When Jeff gets a chance he scores and he made my goal happen, I had an easy goal it was an empty net."
The Leafs played a strong game all around as they defeated the Stanley Cup champions 5-3 Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
After having to leave the first game of the year with after taking a puck off his left eye, Sundin missed the next 12 games before coming back against Tampa Bay. During a stoppage in play the video board at Air Canada Centre played "Welcome back Mats" highlights of some of Sundin's memorable moments as a Maple Leaf.
Although he played well, Sundin acknowledged that he can still improve his conditioning.
"My legs, hands and head have a long way to go and in terms of my game in a couple of weeks I'll be alright," Sundin said.
The entire team seemed to have more confidence with number 13 in the lineup.
"He had a huge impact tonight," Alex Steen said. "He was unreal tonight."
Head coach Pat Quinn didn't ease his captain back in the lineup. Sundin played 6:45 in the first period as he killed penalties, played on the power play and took his regular shift. Sundin saw 19:10 of ice time which was second highest among Leafs forwards.
"He's a premier player," Quinn said. "The first time I saw him play when I was here you could tell that he's always improving. He improves players around him which good players do."
After Tampa cut the lead to 2-1, O'Neill slid the puck to Sundin who roofed it for his first goal of the 2005-06 season giving the Leafs a 3-1 lead.
Fellow Swede Alex Steen continued to be a strong force in all aspects of the game. He played on a line with Jason Allison and Matt Stajan, killed penalties and Steen also saw powerplay time with Sundin and O'Neill.
Late in the second Steen scored his sixth goal of the season moving him into second among rookies in goal scoring and the Leafs were up 4-1 after 40 minutes.
"I owe a lot of credit to my lineups Jason Allison and Matt (Stajan)," Steen said. "It's a real pleasure playing with them."
The Leafs played one of their better games of the season and they look to continue that trend Sunday when they visit the Washington Capitals at 5:00 p.m. You can catch the game LIVE on Leafs TV.