While all eyes were on Penguins superstar Mario Lemieux on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre, it was Leafs centre Mats Sundin who stoled the show. Sundin scored two goals and added an assist as Toronto beat Pittsburgh 4-0 in front of a sellout crowd that was expecting Lemieux to wield some of his old magic.
But it was Sundin who supplied the offensive power early. Sundin, who had been held scoreless for six games, scored his two goals in the first period. The Leaf captain seemed inspired by Lemieux's presence. He was the best player on the ice and the Penguin defence couldn't contain him. It was Sundin's second goal - with under a minute to play in the first period - that seemed to deflate Pittsburgh.
"The first one was a lucky bounce and it came to my stick," said Sundin. "The second one I thought Jonas (Hoglund) made a great play to get it up to me, so that was nice. I thought our line had better legs tonight than we've had in the last couple of games."
Leafs coach Pat Quinn's plan was to play Sundin, Hoglund, Mikael Renberg and the pairing of defecemen Dmitry Yushkevich and Bryan McCabe against Lemieux's line. The plan only lasted one period as Lemieux left the game with a hip flexor. Lemieux suffered the injury during training camp and hasn't been able to recover from the pain.
It was clear during Saturday morning's practice that Lemieux didn't look right. He left early and had his hip attended to by the Penguins' training staff.
"I'm struggling a lit bit with the hip," said Lemieux. "It's been a struggle for the last two or three weeks and it's something that I'll have to deal with. This morning I didn't skate very well."
It was a surprise to many that Lemieux even made the trip. Before the season started, he said that he would avoid back-to-back games when one involved a road game. The plan was to have Lemieux play as many home games as possible while remaining fresh for the playoffs.
However, during this past week, he played in Atlanta on Tuesday and then back home against Dallas on Wednesday. It was expected that Lemieux would miss this game and then play Sunday at home against Florida. If the injury persist, Lemieux will have to think about sitting out some games so his hip can completely heal.
"I think eventually were going to have to look at that if I'm going to play at 100 per cent," said Lemieux. "It's frustrating to go out there and not be able to give everything you've got when you're not able to skate the way you want to. That's more frustrating than anything else."
Lemieux's absence for the last two periods didn't diminish the Leafs' effort. They gave the Penguins little room to move and played terrific defensive hockey for the third straight game.
"We've been stressing to play better defensively and with that we're going to get better offensively as well," said Sundin. "We don't have to run around and chase the puck all over the ice and I thought tonight we waited for our chances and we were able to capitalize when they (the Penguins) had their turnovers."
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