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Atlantic: Sundin story to play out a bit longer

by Adam Kimelman
There was no white smoke rising from the roof of Madison Square Garden, so the Mats Sundin saga will continue for at least another little while.

The Rangers flew west Sunday for games this week in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, but the Swedish center was not with them.

Sundin was in New York last weekend to promote a poker web site he's associated with. During his time in the Big Apple, he met with Rangers General Manager Glen Sather and watched the Rangers beat the Hurricanes in a shootout Saturday night.
After the game, Sundin met up with countrymen and current Rangers Henrik Lundqvist, Fredrik Sjostrom and Markus Naslund, who likely continued the recruiting effort at one of New York's finer dining establishments.

Sundin, 37, reportedly has been courted by and/or met with a number of teams, among them the Rangers, Flyers, Canadiens, Canucks and Blackhawks. Whether all, some, or none truly are interested in signing the long-time Maple Leafs captain, who hasn't played this season, one GM has said investigating Sundin's interest in playing for them is part of the job.

Sundin had 32 goals and 78 points in 74 games last season, and with 555 goals and 1,321 points in 1,305 games, he's the all-time leading Swedish-born scorer in NHL history.

"You're talking about Mats Sundin," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told Philadelphia reporters recently. "He's still one of the elite players in the game. We'd be foolish not to inquire and look into it."

Sundin has been working out in Los Angeles and mostly has not spoken with the media. A reporter from Newsday, though, caught up with Sundin Saturday. When asked when he would play this season, Sundin replied that he could reach a decision in "the next couple weeks. The way it feels right now, I'm going to play this year, and I'm just trying to get to the point where I'm ready to join a team. We'll see where it is. I haven't decided."

Happy to be close to you -- If there is more traffic leaving the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia this season, there's a pretty good reason. Fans can't leave the game early, because there's a really good chance they'll miss something.

Last Thursday's remarkable rally from a 5-1 third-period deficit to a 6-5 shootout victory against the Hurricanes was Flyers' 14th of 16 home games that has been decided by one goal.

And for the most part, the fans have been leaving happy -- the Flyers are 8-3-3 in one-goal games at home (where they haven't lost in regulation in more than a month) and are 10-3-6 in one-goal games.

The 19 one-goal games are tied with Detroit for most in the League, and they've played 12 games that have gone to overtime or a shootout, tops in the League (the Rangers are second with 11). Their five home OT/shootout wins is second in the League, and their six overall wins is tied for third.

"We like those close games," Flyers forward Scottie Upshall told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's a playoff atmosphere when games are close."

Coach John Stevens has gotten the same feeling.

"Our team is a lot more comfortable in that situation than they have been in the past," Stevens told "We still attack, still try to score. We have a lot more composure in that situation than we have even going back to a year ago. It seems to be a situation our guys are comfortable are in."

All these close games have the look of playoff contests, which Stevens doesn't mind.

"The regular season, it plays like the playoffs now," he said. "Every game has big implications. ... I don't believe playing tight games throughout the course of the year wears you down in the playoffs. ... If anything it helps you in those situations when you get to the postseason."

More on the comeback -- Prior to Thursday's rally against the Hurricanes, the last time the Flyers came back to win after trailing by four goals was Feb. 23, 1988, when they came back from a 5-1 hole to beat Detroit, 11-6.

"I played only 9 games for the Flyers," said coach John Stevens, "but that was one of them."

Stevens was involved in another miracle-type comeback. Coaching the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, his team rallied from a 4-1 deficit with 12 minutes left to beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 7-4, on May 13, 2005, to win the East Division playoff series en route to winning the Calder Cup.

Stocking stuffer -- The Islanders soon could find something special hanging by their chimney with care.

Goaltender Rick DiPietro, who hasn't played since Oct. 25, has been skating in full pads for more than a week, and is aiming to return to the lineup by Christmas.

"It is my hope and goal that it's very soon," DiPietro told Newsday. "I feel really good. We've done everything possible to make sure that when I come back this time I'm 100 percent and ready to finish the season."

DiPietro had hip surgery last spring, knee surgery in June, and another knee surgery in October, after he played three games.

"I'm not even sure I can put into words how hard it's been," DiPietro said. "It was a long summer, a lot of rehabbing, and a lot of things to get ready for this season, and then to have it not work out like it did in the beginning and have to go back and do all over again -- it's tough."

News and notes -- The Penguins announced their new arena, to open for the start of the 2010-11 season, will be called the Consol Energy Center. ... Penguins forward Eric Godard snapped a 99-game goal drought, dating to Oct. 13, 2007, when he scored against the Flyers last Saturday. Between goals, he logged 225 penalty minutes -- not including the seven penalty minutes he served 3:01 after scoring. ... Penguins forward Tim Wallace became the 13th Alaska native to reach the NHL when he made his debut Dec. 10. Seven of those 13 are current NHL players, and all are from Anchorage, including Rangers centers Scott Gomez and Brandon Dubinsky, Flyers defenseman Matt Carle and Islanders center Nate Thompson. ... When the Penguins' Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis had their first career hat tricks in the same game last Thursday against the Islanders, it was exactly one year since it had been done previously, when the Flyers' Joffrey Lupul and R.J. Umberger had their first hat tricks Dec. 11, 2007 -- against the Penguins. ... The 13 combined goals scored by the Devils and Rangers in their game last week matched the total from the team's previous three meetings. ... Devils defenseman Andy Greene, who hasn't played since breaking his hand Oct. 29, practiced for the first time last Thursday and hopes to return as soon as Tuesday's game in Toronto or Wednesday in Buffalo. ... Scott Hartnell's hat trick last Thursday against the Hurricanes was his third in calendar year 2008. Only Buffalo's Thomas Vanek (four) has more. Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Washington Alex Ovechkin also have three. ...  Islanders center Mike Comrie, who hasn't played since Nov. 8 due to recurring pain in his surgically repaired hip, practiced last week and told that he's hoping to play this week, possibly Tuesday against the Capitals. "I'm skating hard right now and working out without pain," he told the site. "I'm excited about skating pain-free and hope to help our team in the near future." ... Islanders center Doug Weight entered the week four points shy of becoming the 73rd player to reach 1,000 for his career. In 19 seasons with the Rangers, Oilers, Blues, Hurricanes, Ducks and Islanders, the Detroit native has 996 points in 1,161 games.

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