March 25, 2006
MONTREAL (CP) -- Mikael Tellqvist already has an Olympic gold medal this season and would like to cap that by leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to an NHL playoff spot.
The 26-year-old goaltender has been thrust into the starting the job due to a back injury that could keep veteran Ed Belfour out for the rest of the season.
It is the first time in Tellqvist's three NHL seasons that he has had so much work and responsibility.
"It's been a fun year so far,'' Tellqvist said Saturday as the Leafs prepared to face the Montreal Canadiens for the second time in three days at the Bell Centre.
"Hopefully, we can make it even better. Getting into the post-season would top it off. Nobody believes we're going to do it, but we're going to.''
It was to be Tellqvist's eighth consecutive start in goal and there likely will be many more. Leafs management apparently does not expect Belfour back before the end of the season, but the players aren't counting him out, including Tellqvist.
"It's always nice to get a chance to play, but I feel for Eddie too, because I know how competitive he is and he's been a big supporter of mine,'' said Tellqvist. "He actually talked to me after the Carolina game (a 3-2 win on Tuesday) and that meant a lot to me. He's a team guy.
"I learned a lot from him this year. I don't think anybody is sure he's not going to come back, but if that's the case, it's sad for him.''
Added team captain Mats Sundin: "We're still hoping Eddie will get better and get back as soon as possible, but meanwhile, I think Mikael has learned a lot from Eddie and he can do the job.''
Tellqvist, drafted 70th overall by Toronto in 2000, played three games for the Leafs in 2002-03 and 11 the following year, but spent much of those seasons in the minors. He played for St. John's of the American Hockey League during the NHL lockout.
Now, in his first full season in the NHL, he has been given the No. 1 job at a time when the Leafs are battling desperately for a playoff berth. So far, he likes it.
"When you have a so-so game, you want to get right back in and not think about it for two weeks,'' he said. "I'll just try to enjoy it as much a possible. Getting a chance to play in the NHL is still surreal.''
Head coach Pat Quinn said Tellqvist was still learning the job and so far has done well. Toronto's defence hasn't been particularly strong this season, making the job that much tougher on the goalies.
"We've had some funny games this year when we give up lots of goals, but it's not always the goaltender you can look at and say `it's his fault,''' said Quinn.
"We haven't been a consistently strong defensive team. Some nights, the goaltending hasn't been good. You can't hide that. But other nights, it's not just our goaltender.''
Tellqvist and Sundin both played for Sweden last month at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Tellqvist mostly backed up New York Ranger Henrik Lundqvist, but he started one game.
He said he keeps his gold medal at his bedside.
"Every morning when I wake up, it's right there,'' he said. "It's really special for us.''
So was the hero's welcome the team received in Stockholm after the games.
"There were 10,000 fans at the airport waiting for us and, going into the city, there were people standing along the highway waiting for us to come,'' he said. "All through the city, people were leaning out their windows to cheer us. We went to a big square that was set up for us and there were probably 50,000 people there.''