March 29, 2003
Playing on back-to-back nights at the best of times can be a trying task, but doing it with an injury-depleted lineup and a perceived team slump is a serious test as the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs draw near.
Fortunately for the Leafs on Saturday night, the Capitals were in exactly the same boat, but the visitors were certainly not slumping.
The Caps came into Air Canada Centre after topping the NHL-leading Ottawa Senators 3-2 at the Corel Centre on Friday. Washington had improved to 3-2-0 on their six-game Canadian road trip and were within two points of Tampa Bay for first in the Southeast, before falling to Leafs 4-3 in overtime Saturday night.
The Leafs broke their recent trend of single-point efforts Friday with a convincing 5-2 win on Long Island in a bout that more resembled the rough and tumble affair that was last-season's first round than the tightly played games we've seen this season.
| Sundin was honoured before the game with a silver stick and a cheque in his name which will go to Sick Kids' Hospital. |
Graig Abel Photography
Contributing to the lack of finish in the Leafs as of late has to be the recent injury woes, as Mikael Renberg, Gary Roberts, Travis Green, Doug Gilmour, Shayne Corson, Glen Wesley and Phil Housley are all out with various ailments and illnesses.
And it looked as though another single pointer was in the cards as the Leafs squandered a 3-1 lead allowing the Caps a pair of goals in the third to push the game to overtime.
"We were up 3-1. You need to close the deal when you're up in the third," said Mats Sundin. "They battled back. We made a couple of mistakes and they were able to capitalize. But it felt good to get the two points"
This truly was Sundin's night.
After Owen Nolan took a nasty slash from Sergei Gonchar in the extra frame, Sundin and Mogilny worked the give-and-go to perfection with only three Caps on the ice, to give Sundin his 60th game-winning goal in a Toronto uniform.
Before the puck-drop Saturday, the Leaf captain was presented with a silver hockey stick engraved with all the NHL players Sundin has played with, framed copies of the scoresheets from his first NHL game with the Quebec Nordiques and his 1000th, March 24 at Boston.
"It's awesome," said Sundin of the ceremony. "I really appreciate this from the organization and the fans. Since I came here I've been treated awesome. Hopefully I'll have a few more good years in me. Certainly a great ceremony and something I'll remember for the rest of my life."
In addition the Leafs' organization handed Mats a $50,000 cheque in his name made out to the Sick Kids' Hospital for improvements that will make it a better place for the youngsters in care at the facility.
Ceremonies aside, the Leafs must be practising for playoffs or just not finishing games, as seven of their past 11 have gone into the extra frame. The the Leafs hold a record of 6-3-7 in matches that see the fourth period.
Perhaps it would be better for these banged-up Maple Leafs to get it over with in three.