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Sundin caps return to Toronto with shootout winner

by John Kreiser
Mats Sundin couldn't have written a better ending to his return to Toronto.

The long-time Leafs captain scored the winning goal in a shootout Saturday night to give his new team, the Vancouver Canucks, a 3-2 victory over his old team, the Maple Leafs.

Sundin's return to the city he called home had been the focus of fans and media for the last few days. Though there were a few boos, the overwhelming reaction to Sundin was positive. The Leafs' all-time leading scorer was saluted with a video tribute and a long standing ovation at the first TV timeout in the opening period that nearly brought him to tears.

"I was probably crying a little bit," he said of his reaction in a postgame interview with Hockey Night in Canada. "Thirteen years in this city and with this team -- there have been a lot of emotions, a lot of ups and downs."

Leafs center Matt Stajan and the officiating crew allowed Sundin to bask in the cheers for a couple of minutes before finally resuming the game.

"With everything that's been going on since the last trading deadline, I thought they really showed me respect," he said of the tribute by the Leafs and their fans. "It was amazing. No matter how this game ended, it wouldn't have changed my memories and my thoughts with the Leafs. It was always going to be the same, but this certainly ends in a nice way."

Stajan said he was in no hurry to take the draw.

"It was his moment - obviously, I was going to sit back and let him enjoy it," he said. "I wasn't going into the faceoff circle before he did.

"He was doing a few spins, we were tapping our sticks, but I couldn't see his face. And then I had to win the faceoff, it was a big one in the defensive zone. I won it and then he cross-checked me in the back."

A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't have come up with a better ending for Sundin and the Canucks -- who took over fifth place in the West with the two points.

After Roberto Luongo opened the shootout by stopping Toronto's Jason Blake, Pavol Demitra scored on a wrist shot against Vesa Toskala. Both goaltenders made saves in the second round before Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski scored against Luongo, bringing out Sundin.

The former Toronto captain made it look easy, faking a shot, deking Toskala to the ice and whipping a backhander high into the net. He earned another ovation when he was announced as the game's first star.

"It's been quite a buildup for this game, and it's nice to look forward now," he said. "It was a tough game, an emotional week. It probably wasn't our best game, or mine either. It certainly ended in a nice way -- both teams got a point, though we got the extra point."

Whatever feelings the Leafs may have had toward their former captain disappeared after the video tribute. Dominic Moore shoved him a few times in the first period and set off a scrum in front of the Canucks bench. The Leafs got a power play out of the melee and turned it into an early lead when Jason Blake tipped Pavel Kubina's point shot past Luongo for his team-high 22nd of the season.

Toskala kept the Canucks off the board until midway through the second period, when defenseman Sami Salo's point shot hit Toronto forward Niklas Hagman's shin pad and went into the net at 9:49.
Stajan put Toronto back in front at 16:11 with a shorthanded goal, carrying the puck into the Vancouver zone before beating Luongo through the legs with a low shot.

The Canucks wasted a four-minute power play early in the third period after Moore was called for cutting defenseman Willie Mitchell with a high stick. But they got even with 3:57 remaining when Alex Burrows got his stick on Daniel Sedin's long shot and redirected it past Toskala.

"I thought we played a good game," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "It was high intensity with good end-to-end action."

So is Sundin glad it's all over?

"I have a lot of memories with a lot of the guys," he said. "But it's kind of nice to have it over with too now."

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