VANCOUVER, B.C. – Mats Sundin says he’ll cherish every shift in the Stanley Cup playoffs as the clock ticks louder on his Hall of Fame career.
How many shifts that will involve first depends on how his Vancouver Canucks fare in an opening round best-of-seven series against the St. Louis Blues, which begins Wednesday at GM Place. “I don’t have too many chances left (and) whether I play next year or not I am definitely at the end of my career,” the 38-year-old Sundin said Tuesday on the eve of his 84th playoff game.
“I think when you get to my age, it feels very fortunate to be part of it and you cherish every time you get on the ice and get a chance to compete.”
Sundin has competed for the Stanley Cup in nine playoff seasons, eight with the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom he led to two Eastern Conference finals.
But hockey’s holy grail has eluded the big Swede who has three world championships and a gold medal from the 2006 Turin Olympics on his resume.
“Being able to play in this league for 17 years and compete at the highest level internationally and in the NHL, I’ve been very fortunate with the career I’ve had,” Sundin said. “Saying that, the dream that keeps inspiring you to come down and work out and practise every day is a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. For sure, it’s a big carrot.”
General manager Mike Gillis began courting the six-foot-five, 231-pound veteran with the Leafs’ career scoring record of 555 goals and 1,321 points by offering a two-year, US$20-million deal last July.
Sundin wavered for months, first on whether he wanted to play again and second on which team he would join.
He eventually signed a pro-rated deal for about US$5 million on Dec. 18 and recorded nine goals and 28 points in 41 games. Two of those goals came on the road against the Blues, who will also face the Canucks in Vancouver on Friday before the series shifts to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday.
Playing on the second line with Ryan Kesler and Pavol Demitra, the other elder statesman with 77 playoff games, Sundin has averaged nearly 17 minutes of ice time per game.
While there have been suggestions he has lost a step, Sundin has been effective on the power play, with five goals and pin-point passes that led to others, as well as winning key faceoffs.
His big body can also protect the puck near the opposition goal.
While Sundin’s production hasn’t matched his career point-a-game average and he didn’t score in the final 13 regular-season games, he did pick up eight assists in that span.
“He’s good down low, he hangs on to (the puck) and it creates more room for me,” said Kesler who scored a career-high 26 goals. “He’s been a leader in this dressing room since he got here and he continues to grow in that aspect.”
Kesler said their line has played well and its role will be making the Blues focus less on the top unit of Alex Burrows and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
“There’s room for improvement still but we’re going to try to be that secondary scoring to take the pressure off Hank and Danny, make St. Louis worry about us a little bit,” he said.
Coach Alain Vigneault agreed Sundin’s post-season experience is important to his club.
“We’re going to need his presence on the ice, his presence in the dressing room,” Vigneault said.
Vigneault also said Sundin should be hungry after not appearing in the playoffs since 2004.
“He’s right, I am,” Sundin said after a practice that focused on special teams and set plays. “You play a whole season to get to a point where every game is so important.
“The thing that comes out in the playoffs is that everything magnifies, the intensity goes up, there’s more value in each shift.
“I hope that’s going to help me prepare.”
Notes: Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell was back at practice after taking Monday off for what Vigneault described as a maintenance day … Burrows led all scorers in the four regular-season games between the two clubs with four goals.