The Toronto Maple Leafs are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
Needing all the help he can get, coach Pat Quinn plans on using his well-traveled Olympians, including captain Mats Sundin, when the Maple Leafs face the Washington Capitals in the first game after the Olympic break.
“We’re counting on (Sundin) to be here,” said Quinn, who also coached Canada and arrived from Turin on Monday. “It’s a tough spot to play Sunday night several thousand miles away and expect him to be in the lineup here (on Tuesday).”
Sundin captained the Swedish team to its second Olympic gold medal, defeating Maple Leafs teammate Aki Berg and Finland 3-2 in Sunday’s final.
Sundin, a 15-year NHL veteran, scored three goals and five assists in eight games during the tournament.
He has 17 goals and 54 points in 45 games against the Capitals.
The 35-year-old Sundin and goaltender Mikael Tellqvist will return to Toronto on Tuesday after celebrating their Olympic triumph in Stockholm.
Toronto won only three of its last 15 games before the Olympic break. The team is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Montreal for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Maple Leafs have not missed the postseason in their seven seasons under Quinn.
“I think that one bad stretch might put us out of the playoffs,” said Leafs center Jeff O’Neill.
The Maple Leafs are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against the Capitals. They have not lost a game to the Caps at the Air Canada Centre since a 4-3 defeat on March 21, 2002.
The Capitals try to avoid a five-game losing streak. They lost a season-high six straight games from Jan. 1-12.
Washington will also welcome back Olympians to the team, but Russian phenom Alexander Ovechkin’s participation on Tuesday is uncertain.
The Capitals’ leading scorer scored five goals in eight games during the Olympics, but the Russians lost to the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game.
Ovechkin has tallied four goals and five points in three games against the Maple Leafs, including two-goal performances in back-to-back games on Nov. 6 and 8.
Goalie Olaf Kolzig is also uncertain to start after playing for Germany at the Olympics and posting a 2.68 goals-against average. The former Vezina Trophy winner has a 10-14-4 record with a 3.40 GAA and an .880 save percentage in 29 games against the Leafs.