- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Mats Sundin has played in two Olympics and seven All-Star Games. He's one of just three Maple Leafs of the past 13 seasons to have been named among Toronto's 25 top all-time players. He has averaged more than a point a game during his 12-year NHL career.
However, the 31-year-old Sundin has a gaping hole on his resume. Toronto's captain has yet to skate in the Stanley Cup Finals. Among active players who haven't reached the finals, only Pierre Turgeon (464), Ray Ferraro (402), Teemu Selanne (399) and Steve Thomas (393) have more goals than Sundin's 389.
"Being named one of Toronto's top 25 players is a great honor, but we're here to win," said Sundin, who never even got past the first round of the playoffs until 1998-1999, his fifth season with Toronto after four with Quebec. "You want to play for the Stanley Cup. That's what drives us. It's a goal you cherish. Every year that goes by is a year that's lost. Last year, the playoffs started great. We were up 3-2 on New Jersey coming home for Game 6 [of the Eastern Conference semifinals], but they found a way to beat us again [as they had in 2000]. It was a pretty frustrating end to the season. The Devils made it all the way to the seventh game of the finals, so sure you think 'that could have been us.'"
Sundin had that same feeling watching the Canadians win the Olympic gold medal last month not long after he and his Swedish teammates had beaten them convincingly. But the Swedes wound up not even making the medal round after being stunned by Belarus.
"It was disappointing, but you have to move on and focus on our season here," said Sundin, Sweden's top Olympic scorer with nine points.
Sundin actually already had changed his focus. His 33 goals prior to last night's game at MCI Center were tied for second in the NHL and were his second-most in the past decade. His 204 shots were just 22 behind his total of last year and well ahead of the 184 he put on net in 1999-2000. With 59 points, Sundin was 15 ahead of the closest Leaf (only reigning MVP Joe Sakic of Colorado had a bigger lead over his nearest teammate). Sundin's 921 points were second all-time to Washington's Jaromir Jagr (1,136) among European-raised players and he's on pace to produce more goals than assists for the first time.
"Where in previous years, I would maybe look for that last pass, now once I get over the blue line, I look to shoot a little more," said Sundin, the only NHL player to tie and then win two games in the third period or overtime this season. "I changed because I wasn't happy with my production [28 goals] last year. I've been told to shoot the puck more throughout my career. But you have to have the right mindset. Sometimes you just look to pass instead of making it the second option. I think I'm a better player than I was when I scored 114 points [47 goals, 67 assists for Quebec in 1992-93]. I hope I've matured. I used to be strictly an offensive player. I've been working on my defense, my all-around game."
Although Sundin played well alongside veteran left wing Gary Roberts late last season, Toronto traded with Phoenix for physical right wing Mikeal Renberg last summer with the idea of putting him on an all-Swedish line with Sundin and left wing Jonas Hoglund. The trio had combined for 141 points and a plus-36 defensive rating before last night.
"I thought Mats was one of those players who lived off his skills, but I was wrong," said Renberg, once part of Philadelphia's Legion of Doom line with Eric Lindros and John LeClair. "Mats works extremely hard and his leadership is just amazing. He demands a lot from his teammates and his linemates, but if we don't play well, he's always positive trying to get everybody going. Mats has a great combination of size [6-foot-4, 220 pounds] and skill. Mats has great hands and he's extremely good at protecting the puck. It's almost impossible to take it away from him."
And it's very hard to beat the Leafs if Sundin dents the scoresheet. Prior to last night, Toronto was 27-5-4-2 when Sundin registered a point, 5-14-2-2 when he was scoreless.


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