Gold-medal heroes must return to their jobs

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The NHL ends its Olympic break tonight with six games.

Mats Sundin partied in Sweden with the rest of his Olympic teammates at a gold-medal celebration in Stockholm on Monday.

Today, Sundin has to go back to his real job as Toronto Maple Leafs captain. So do the rest of the NHL Olympians who played in Turin, Italy.

After a two-week break for the Winter Olympics, the regular season resumes tonight with six games: Montreal at the New York Islanders; Florida at Tampa Bay; Washington at Toronto; Minnesota at Colorado; Vancouver at Calgary; and Detroit at San Jose.

Some teams will have their Olympians in the lineup, some won't. Sundin is expected to return to Toronto this morning, and Leafs coach Pat Quinn hopes to have his star player in the lineup against Washington -- mainly because they are one point out of a playoff spot and desperately in need of wins.

"We're counting on him to be here," said Quinn, who also coached Team Canada and arrived back from Italy early Monday. "It's a tough spot to play Sunday night several thousand miles away and expect him to be in the lineup here."

Sundin helped Sweden beat Finland 3-2 Sunday for its first Olympic title since 1994. He has a chance to become a hero of two nations if he helps end Canada's Stanley Cup drought and the Leafs' even longer struggle to win a title. Montreal was the last Canadian team to win the Cup, in 1993. The last time the Leafs won it was in 1967.

In Stockholm, Sundin, Peter Forsberg and the other Swedish players sang the national anthem along with the elated crowd packing a downtown square. The NHL players were originally scheduled to fly directly to the United States. But no one wanted to miss the celebrations in the Swedish capital.

"It's a lot of fun to come home to Sweden," Forsberg said. "It might be a pretty long night."

Forsberg said he would return to Philadelphia today and hoped to play for the Flyers against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

But most of the gold-medal winning Swedish players aren't expected to play today.

The Detroit Red Wings, who have a league-best 83 points, will be without their five Swedish players against San Jose. Niklas Lidstrom, who scored the game winner against Finland, Henrik Zetterberg, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Holmstrom and Niklas Kronwall will join the team in Los Angeles after the Sharks game and be available for Wednesday's game against Anaheim.

Their five other Olympians -- Americans Chris Chelios and Mathieu Schneider, Robert Lang, Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper -- were expected to join the team in San Jose, Calif., on Monday night.

Vancouver said it expects to have Sweden twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin available for its game in Calgary. Defensemen Mattias Ohlund (Sweden) and Sami Salo (Finland) won't be there. Both were injured during the Olympics.

Ohlund hurt his ribs and left shoulder sliding heavily into the end boards with a Swiss player on his back during a quarterfinal win. Salo hurt his right shoulder late in a quarterfinal victory over the U.S. Neither played in the gold-medal game.

X-rays showed no fractures in Ohlund's ribs. He said he hopes to join the team either in Nashville on Thursday or Chicago on Friday. Salo stayed in Turin to watch the rest of Finland's games and was scheduled to return Vancouver on Monday.

The full extent of Salo's injury hasn't been revealed, and Canucks general manager Dave Nonis recently expressed frustration with the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation's unwillingness to pass along medical updates. The Canucks are already missing top defenseman Ed Jovanovski, out after abdominal surgery.

Most players should be back for Wednesday's games. Nashville coach Barry Trotz plans to slowly work in the Predators' five Olympians: Kimmo Timonen, Tomas Vokoun, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Erat and Danny Markov.

The Predators are fourth in the Western Conference, three points ahead of Vancouver. They play at Chicago on Wednesday.

"If you're going to make a commitment to be in the Olympics, you're in all the time," Trotz said. "You can't pick and choose. Every four years, everyone's under the same sort of strain. I'm actually very fortunate. I think everyone got out healthy."

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and center Viktor Kozlov skipped practice Monday but are expected to skate Tuesday and play Wednesday night against Philadelphia.

Carolina, which leads the Eastern Conference with 82 points, hosts Boston on Wednesday. Coach Peter Laviolette led the U.S. team, which lost to Finland in the quarterfinals.

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