A familiar feeling
TURIN--Mats Sundin came to Turin to get his scoring touch back and, of course, represent his country one more time.
He also came, you have to believe, to get away from the growing turmoil in Toronto where the Maple Leafs have slipped out of a playoff berth.
Instead, with Peter Forsberg still not yet in the lineup, the Swedes got blasted today by the Russians 5-0, with New York Rangers star rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist torched in the defeat.
Sundin, who has been on the sour side of some lopsided scores this season with the Leafs, scored a pretty goal in the opener against Kazakhstan, but he was minus-2 in that game and minus-1 today with two shots.
"Up until they got their second goal I thought we were doing okay," he said. "But if you turn the puck over in the neutral zone like we did against these kind of forwards, you're shooting yourself in the foot.
"We've seen in previous tournaments we've been perfect and then had a game like today in the quarterfinals, so I'd rather have it now."
Sundin actually seemed to come to life in the third period after looking as sluggish as he has in many Leaf games this season, but he was assessed a goalie interference penalty after undressing Russian defenceman Andrei Markov on a solo rush and then ramming into goalie Evgeny Nabokov.
"I really tried to get out of his way," said Sundin. "I disagreed with the call, but. . ."
With the Leafs, Sundin has only 11 goals in 45 games. After suffering an eye injury early in the season, he donned a visor, and just before the Olympic break he took it off and has kept it that way here. He took a stick to the mouth in the third, a mouth still healing from cuts suffered in the final NHL games before heading over to Turin.
While playing for the Leafs can be a pressure cooker, skating for Tre Kronor attracts intense attention in Sweden. Many of the country's top players were bitterly criticized four years ago after stumbling to a shocking defeat in the quarterfinals against Belarus after beating Canada earlier in the tournament.
"It's fun. I really enjoy playing for Sweden and representing my country," said Sundin. "It's a big honor. Playing in a tournament like this with all the great players in the world is a great opportunity. I see it as a break to get away from the everyday stuff we do in Toronto, and at the same time I hope I can use this as a springboard for the final 25 games of the season.
"I hope to get to get some more goals. That's something I'd like to do more for the last part of the season."
The Swedes and the Swiss are the only two teams in the tournament who have opted not to wear the new, modern Nike Swift uniforms, instead choosing to stick with their traditional yellow jerseys for the most part. The Russians, meanwhile, looked spiffy and dazzling in their new red outfits, particularly youngsters Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin, Maxim Afinogenov and Ilya Kovalchuk, all of whom were featured prominently in yesterday's easy win.
Russian teams don't always give their hotshot kids a chance to shine, but this team clearly will
"We have some young guys. . .and. . .we have some medium guys," said Ovechkin, choosing his words carefully before bursting into a broad smile
Nabokov held the fort early, and then Alexei Kovalev, Ovechkin and Maxim Sushinsky put pucks past Lundqvist in the second and Viktor Kozlov and Afinogenov scored in the third.
"They were so fast, and they got some lucky goals," said a disappointed Lundqvist. "Of course I'm disappointed. I let in five goals. But you have to look at the goals, too. You can't blame yourself for every goal."
The Russians, upset by Slovakia in their Olympic opener, were razor sharp today and appear to have a lot of balance up front, particularly with the 19-year-old Malkin fitting in comfortably after skating for Russia at the world junior championships in Vancouver.
"We can celebrate, but you already see there are a lot of surprises in this tournament," said defenceman Darius Kaspairaitis. "You know, Czechs lost to Swiss today, so we have to be ready to play any team.
"Hopefully this game is going to give us confidence. But not too much."