Mats Sundin knows all too well how difficult it is to win a Stanley Cup.
The former Toronto Maple Leafs captain is considered among the greatest players in hockey history to never win nor advanced to the NHL’s championship series. That’s one reason why he’d be happy to see Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals win it all this year.
“We all do want to see him win,” Sundin said of Ovechkin during a Friday morning appearance on Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup.
Sundin played 1,346 career regular-season NHL games and finished his Hall of Fame career with 1,349 points. He added 82 points in the 91 playoff games he suited up for but the furthest his teams ever advanced was the Eastern Conference Final in 1999 and 2002.
Ovechkin, as a 32-year-old, already sits 19th in NHL history with 607 goals and is about to get his first taste of what it’s like to compete in the final.
“It’s so hard to win a Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League and you need to have the deepest rosters and great goaltending and everybody has to stay healthy and you need a little bit of luck on the way,” Sundin said.
While Sundin can’t speak first-hand about what it’s like to win the Cup, he does have plenty of experience winning on the international stage. In addition to being a seven-time medallist at the IIHF world championships, Sundin captained Team Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in 2006.
The 47-year-old likened going on a Stanley Cup run to going on an Olympic run.
“I competed in three different Olympics—in Nagano, in Salt Lake City and in Torino—and to be honest with you we played better in Salt Lake City as a team than we did in Torino,” Sundin explained. “We got nothing in Salt Lake City. In Torino we won gold as a team, so it’s a lot who you run into on the way to your championship, if you’re lucky and get the breaks, and it’s really hard to win at the highest level.”
Sundin added that there’s nothing quite as fun as going deep in the playoffs with your teammates.
“I mean, myself, with all the experience we had of not reaching all the way out to the championship…being in the playoffs is also the best thing,” he said. “Just to be on the run in the playoffs and to go through the third round and just make it deep in the playoffs is the most fun.”
Ovechkin certainly has had fun this post-season, leading his team with 12 goals and sitting second in league scoring behind teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov with 22 points in 19 games, including a league-best 15 road points.
Ovechkin isn’t the lone reason Sundin might be leaning towards the Caps in this series either.
“Nicklas Backstrom has been maybe the top offensive player for Sweden,” Sundin said of his countryman. “You look at Swedish hockey today, he’s been our No. 1, go-to guy in the national team, in the World Cup, and he won the world championships last year. This is a great opportunity for him. I know he’s been hurt in the playoffs but [they’re] good enough to win. I think they have a great chance to do it this year.”
The Capitals will have their hands full against the upstart Vegas Golden Knights, who have taken the sports world by storm this season.
“It really is wow isn’t it?” Sundin said, still in awe of what the expansion franchise has accomplished in its inaugural season. “Of all these players that all these different teams in the National Hockey League for some reason didn’t want to keep on their roster now are first of all having a great regular season and then might win the whole thing. It’s mind-boggling, really. But they’ve done a fantastic job and very important: great goaltending. You saw against Winnipeg, I’d say the goaltender (Marc-Andre Fleury) was the difference in that series.”
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final takes place Monday. Fans can watch the game on Sportsnet and CBC with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.