Keefe said management had talked to Sundin about doing it during a staff dinner Thursday.
“We thought it was a good idea to let him have that moment,” Keefe said. “And we thought it would be impactful as well with our group and our franchise’s connection with Sweden. It’s a very strong one.
“I thought it was a very fitting thing and an obvious thing for us to do.”
This was no ordinary lineup, either.
Realizing the significance of the occasion, Keefe had three Swedes in the starting lineup: Nylander, forward Calle Jarnkrok and defenseman William Lagesson. Also on the ice was forward Max Domi, who’s known Sundin since his dad, Tie, and Mats were teammates with the Maple Leafs in the late 1990s.
Max to this day considers Sundin his idol. Keefe understood that, and wanted Domi to know that too.
After the national anthems were complete, Nylander and a fellow Swede, Red Wings forward Lucas Raymond, took part in the ceremonial face-off. The puck was dropped by Anders Salming, Borje’s son.
The Swedish theme to the max.
Once the game started, the Red Wings broke open a tight game with second-period goals to go up 2-0. One of those came via Raymond, causing the crowd to celebrate the exploits of one of their native sons.
Then the third period arrived, and Nylander took over.
He delivered a perfect cross-crease pass to Tyler Bertuzzi, who directed the puck past Red Wings goalie Alex Lyon to cut the Detroit lead to 2-1 at 3:50.
Nylander tied the game on the power play at 13:03 with his 13th goal of the season, a snap shot from the slot that found the top corner.
Then came the Tavares heroics to put the Maple Leafs up 3-2. And yes, Nylander could have sealed the deal by scoring into the empty net after the Red Wings had pulled Lyon, but in the end, it wasn’t needed.
Afterward, Tavares noted that Nylander had put himself “among the game’s elites.”
The crowd couldn’t have agreed more.
Indeed, as the fans rose out of their seats after the final horn, Nylander was presented the player-of-the-game award by Anders Salming. The perfect ending to an almost perfect night.