It was a game-winner, in overtime, short-handed, it tied Dave Keon for second all-time in Leaf goals at 365, and it polished off a hat trick. Ho-hum.
“Certainly, I’m proud of the accomplishment, and it makes it special the way it happened, to get the win in overtime, too,” the 35-year-old star centre said after his team’s thrilling 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames.
It looked as though it would be the Flames that would ruin the evening as they threatened on a 4-on-3 power play in overtime, but Sundin blasted a slap shot from just inside the blue-line 50 seconds into the extra period that rocketed past Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff. The goal ignited a raucous celebration by the 19,338 fans at Air Canada Centre.
“More than anything, it’s nice to get it over with,” Sundin said of the milestone goal. “I didn’t want it to go 15 or 20 games into the season and still be looking for it.”
The fans stayed on their feet and continued to shower applause on their beloved captain, an emotional moment that saw Sundin return the love by clapping in their direction after skating out as the game’s first star.
“I realized the applause and the people standing and staying in the rink for me, that was just appreciation of that on my part,” Sundin said of clapping his hands for them. “That just doesn’t happen very often. I’ve been here for many years and it was a special moment for me. . . .
“It was very emotional.”
It was a magical night in Toronto, one that saw the 12-year Leaf receive the kind of love from a crowd that took its time to embrace the Big Swede the way they worshipped Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour before him.
“It’s only fitting that he score the overtime goal because he’s scored so many huge goals for us,” said linemate Darcy Tucker. “And it’s great that he got that standing ovation from the fans.”
Tucker and Alexander Steen also scored for the Maple Leafs (3-1-2), who were missing checking centre Michael Peca, day to day with a lower body injury.
Mark Giordano had his first two career goals for Calgary, while Matthew Lombardi and Daymond Langkow also scored for the Flames (2-2-1), who lost despite scoring a season-high four goals. They had entered the game with only five goals in their previous four games.
Giordano, a Toronto native who played in the Ontario Hockey League with Owen Sound, had family and friends on hand to witness his dream-like evening.
“It’s tough to get tickets here but I tried to accommodate as many people as I could,” he said. “I had about 10 people here, mostly relatives. I’m sure they were excited for me.”
The Leafs deserved the victory, outshooting the Flames 43-30 but getting only average goaltending from Andrew Raycroft, which hasn’t been the case very often so far this season.
Tucker, with his team-leading fifth goal of the season, opened the scoring 8:09 into the first period, sliding in a perfect cross-crease pass from Kyle Wellwood during a Leafs power play. The backdoor play between Wellwood and Tucker has become all too familiar early in this season and one opposing teams will start to pick up in their video sessions.
Sundin made it 2-0 with 4:32 left in the opening period just as a 5-on-3 power play was ending, blasting a one-timer in an open side after a fake shot and pass by Bryan McCabe.
Calgary cut the lead to 2-1 at 4:52 of the second period, when Giordano beat Raycroft with a wrist shot from the high slot that rang in off the post.
The Leafs continued to carry the play but the Flames tied it 2-2 with a short-handed goal, Lombardi stuffing a loose puck under a sprawled Raycroft at 7:53 of the second period. The score was tied despite Toronto outshooting Calgary 22-9 at that point.
The goal gave the Flames some wind in their sails. Giordano shot out from the Leafs corner and scored on a backhand deke that beat Raycroft between the legs to give Calgary a 3-2 lead at 11:26.
The Leafs then tied and went ahead with two goals 1:10 apart. Steen scored with 2:22 to go in the middle period after poking in a loose puck while falling down. Soon after, Sundin beat Kiprusoff with a wrist shot that deflected off Giordano’s stick.
Langkow pulled Calgary to 4-4 at 7:15 of the third period, his wrist shot from a tight angle somehow beating Raycroft over his right shoulder.
Notes: In honour of Pink Ribbon Night at the Air Canada Centre, players on both teams wore pink decals on their helmets in support of the fight against breast cancer. . . . The two clubs won’t face each other again this season. . . . Blue-liner Rhett Warrener (knee) is Calgary’s only injury. Winger Darren McCarty was a healthy scratch but the diehard Detroit Tigers fan was elated after watching his ball team make it to the World Series with a Game 4 win. “I was there in ’84 when they last won the World Series. It’s a long time coming,” he said. . . . Brendan Bell made his season debut after returning from a foot injury. His addition on the blue-line pushed tough guy Wade Belak back up to forward. . . . Outside of Peca, defencemen Pavel Kubina (knee), Andy Wozniewski (shoulder), Carlo Colaiacovo (head), Staffan Kronwall (ankle) and forwards Ben Ondrus (contusion) and Nik Antropov (leg) were out for Toronto. . . . The Leafs next host Colorado on Wednesday while Calgary is at Montreal on Tuesday.