Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sundin Seals Win In Return To Toronto

It was a story-book ending for Hockey Day in Canada at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night. Mats Sundin capped off a hero’s welcome back to Toronoto in dramatic style as he scored the winning goal to lift the Canucks to a 3-2 shoot-out victory over the Maple Leafs.

Sundin was honoured with a two-minute standing ovation during the first television time out in the opening period. Choking back the tears, Sundin drew a well-deserved reaction from the ACC faithful who thanked him for his 13 years of service as the leader of Leafs Nation.

After the much-anticipated hoop-la died down, the game took a while to pick up and was void of any huge scoring chances for either team. The Leafs did get on the scoreboard first though and it came with the man advantage. Pavel Kubina’s shot from point wound up being deflected off the stick of Jason Blake and past goalie Roberto Luongo. Lee Stempniak collects the other assist on Blake’s team-leading 22nd goal of the season at 12:26.

Both teams had decent chances to score in the opening minutes of the middle frame. Shane O’Brien, attempting to snap his 117-game goal-scoring drought, had a long shot get past netminder Vesa Toskala. However the puck wound up ringing off the outside of the post. At the other end of the rink, Jamal Mayers snap shot from the left face off circle took an awkward deflection off the skate of Willie Mitchell. Luongo had no chance as he luckily saw the puck bounce off the post and wide.

The Canucks were able to get their equalizer they were hoping for and it came on a power play just prior to the midway stage of the period. Henrik Sedin was able to move the puck to the right point for Pavol Demitra. Instead of shooting, he found Sami Salo at the opposite side of the blue line. Salo stepped into a shot that deflected off a Leafs stick and in. Salo, who has scored every one of his goal on the power play this season, now has four on the year and it came at 9:49.

Before the period was out, the Leafs restored their lead with what proved to be just their second short-handed goal of the season. Ian White got the puck out of his own zone for Matt Stajan who skated into the Canucks end against two Vancouver defenders. His long shot squeaked through the pads of Luongo and into the net. It was a big goal for Stajan, giving him 14 for the campaign at 16:11.

The Canucks had some great chances to tie things up throughout much of the third period. Ryan Kesler was denied on a good pad save by Toskala off a redirect from the slot five minutes in. Then Sundin missed a glorious chance during a goal mouth scramble just before the midway stage of the period.

Vancouver was given a golden opportunity to draw level when Dominic Moore took a double minor penalty for high-sticking after he cut open Mitchell on the nose. However the visitors weren’t able to generate a shot on goal against a Leafs club that came into the night sporting the worst penalty killing percentage in the NHL.

Just when it looked like the Canucks weren’t able to have what it took to pull off another third period comeback, Alex Burrows had other ideas. After Henrik picked off a clearing attempt, Daniel Sedin was able to let a long snap shot go off the right boards just inside the Leafs blue line. As the puck sailed through the air, Burrows was able to get his stick off the ice and deflect it down past Toskala. Burrows celebrated his 15th of the year to give the Canucks at least a point for their efforts.

In overtime, both teams had some great chances. The Leafs started off the extra period with a power play, but were denied on every opportunity either by Luongo or on the penalty killers in front of him. At the other end, Toskala had to come up with some big stops off the likes of Daniel Sedin and Kevin Bieksa to keep the game level.

The game wound up having to be decided in a shoot-out and none of the 19,504 fans on hand would leave their seats for the wild finish. Demitra would be the first Canuck to score while Kyle Wellwood missed his opportunity on a wrist shot. Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman were both stoned on good saves made by Luongo, but Mikhail Grabovski was able to connect with his chance. That set the stage for Sundin to win the game against his former team. Calmly he skated in against Toskala and had little trouble beating him with a great move to the back-hand. The Canucks poured off the bench to celebrate with Toronto’s former captain as he netted his first shoot-out goal in a Vancouver uniform, which no doubt warranted 1st Star honours.

Final shots on net favoured the Maple Leafs 38-37. Both teams wound up going 1-for-5 on the power play.

Now with four straight wins, the Canucks improve their overall record to 30-21-8. Having won eight of their last nine, the club now heads to Montreal where they’ll play the Canadiens for the second time in just over a week. Game time at the Bell Centre on Tuesday goes at 4:30pm PST.

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