RALEIGH, N.C. – Leave it to Nicklas Lidstrom to quietly put his stamp on the NHL’s all-star game.
On a night that featured an endless stream of odd-man rushes and 21 goals, the Detroit Red Wings defenceman still managed to do what he does best. The Swede finished with an amazing plus-7 rating to lead by example on a team carrying his name.
Even though Team Lidstrom beat Team Staal 11-10 on Sunday, a big part of the post-game discussion centred around the future Hall of Famer’s defensive skills.
“He picked the winning team and was plus-7 so that’s a pretty good night for Nick Lidstrom,” said Eric Staal.
The Carolina Hurricanes captain held his own by scoring twice, but his team wasn’t able to take advantage of home ice advantage and the support of a sellout crowd at RBC Center.
The league went with a different format for this year’s game—putting the power in the hands of the players by having captains Staal and Lidstrom select the teams. While it seemed pretty popular with the participants and created some new buzz heading into the weekend, it didn’t have much impact on the game itself.
“It’s pretty much a shinny game out there,” said Jonathan Toews, one of three Chicago Blackhawks on Team Lidstrom.
Added Team Lidstrom goaltender Jonas Hiller: “It felt like summer hockey, lots of back-door plays. It’s not the most fun for the goalies but still I had a lot of fun.”
Lidstrom formed quite a defensive duo with Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, who had a plus-6 rating himself and chipped in four assists.
With the standout performances being put in by blue-liners, the game lacked a real buzz moment—something that was in larger supply during Friday’s draft and Saturday’s skills competition.
However, the players are clearly in favour of the new format and a few indicated that they hope it will continue next year when the game is played at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.
“I had fun with it,” said Team Staal forward Patrick Sharp, who won the MVP award and a new Honda Crosstour EX-L. “I was a little nervous going into the draft. There’s a lot of talk about that last guy, but there is really no pressure at all.
“I think everyone had fun with it.”
Sharp finished with a goal and two assists.
He’s in the midst of a career year with the Chicago Blackhawks, having already surpassed his goal total from last year with 26 so far. A little extra motivation came in the fall when the NHL left him off the all-star ballot.
“I guess I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bothered by it,” said Sharp.
The all-star game featured countless odd-man rushes and some nice goals, none more popular than the one Staal scored on a breakaway 3:49 into the third period to tie the game 7-7.
He was clearly motivated while playing on home ice and led all players with eight shots on goal. Hurricanes teammate Jeff Skinner, who is tremendously popular here, wasn’t able to score despite several attempts from linemates to set him up.
“I could feel (the fans) were ready to cheer if me and Skins would finally put one in the net,” said Staal.
“We were trying as hard as we could.”
The goals came in bunches.
Anze Kopitar, Danny Briere and Loui Eriksson led the way for Team Lidstrom with two apiece. Toews, Dustin Byfuglien, Matt Duchene, Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis each had one.
Staal and Kris Letang each had two goals for Team Staal while Alex Ovechkin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Elias, Claude Giroux, Sharp and Rick Nash had the others.
Ovechkin, the NHL’s flashiest player, got the scoring started just 50 seconds in when he saw a centring pass ricochet in off defenceman Duncan Keith. That gave Team Staal some early momentum as it went on to score three more times on Marc-Andre Fleury in the opening six minutes.
“You’re kind of looking up there at the score and you’re thinking, ‘Geez, it’s 4-0 and it’s not even half the period,'” said Lidstrom.
At the other end, Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward got off to a strong start. He got his glove on a good chance from Briere and entertained U.S. viewers on Versus by interacting with commentator Mike (Doc) Emrick throughout the period.
When Kopitar broke his shutout with a lovely deke move at 10:50 of the first period, Ward said: “Good thing I only see that guy once a year.”
That started a rally by Team Lidstrom, which tied the score 4-4 before the first intermission and took a 7-6 lead after 40 minutes.
In the third period, Duchene was awarded the first penalty shot in all-star game history after Ovechkin threw his stick while he was on a breakaway. However, he was unable to beat Henrik Lundqvist with a deke move.
“I just tried to do something different,” said Duchene. “I think I had him at first, I thought I was homefree and he kicked out his skate and got me. It was a great save.”
As in years past, the intensity didn’t pick up until the minutes wound down.
It ended up being a pretty successful weekend in Raleigh, which was a terrific host for the event. Fans wearing hockey sweaters congregated downtown in the days leading up to the game and they arrived early Sunday to tailgate before the 4 p.m. start.
“I think (people) were probably surprised with the response that the community had given this event,” said Staal. “It was awesome. I’m very proud of our fans and how they showed their support for this event and came out in throngs and were tailgating and doing all the things we know they do.
“It was exciting to be just a part of it with them and enjoy the whole experience.”
Notes:They combined payrolls of the teams was over US$102 million apiece … Ovechkin has scored in each of his four all-star appearances … A nice pre-game introduction featuring former Hurricanes Rod Brind’Amour and Ron Francis was missed by CBC viewers because the BDO Canadian Open curling event went to extra ends … Team Lidstrom players have combined for 6,677 career NHL points while Team Staal members have 5,778 … All four officials worked their first all-star game—referees Tom Kowal and Kevin Pollack and linesmen Darren Gibbs and Don Henderson. They had a couple offside calls, but no penalties.