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New draft format for All-Star tilt delivers desired effect

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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RALEIGH, N.C – It’s all about timing as far as Tim Thomas is concerned.

The Boston Bruins goalie should know, too, because he ended up being credited with the win Sunday despite a less-than-spectacular effort on his part as Team Lidstrom defeated Team Staal 11-10 in the NHL All-Star Game.

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“Playing in the third period is a big part of it,” Thomas conceded. “I know that’s the best time to go in.”

Apparently it is because Thomas got the victory, even though he failed to protect a one-goal lead during the final 20 minutes. The midseason favorite to win the Vezina Trophy was beaten four times on 15 shots, but still managed to come away with his record third consecutive All-Star win, one that actually went down to the wire.

“I knew I had to let in one goal to get the win on my record, so I did,” he laughed. “Then I couldn’t stop them from going in.”

Fortunately for his team, New York’s Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t having that much more success at the other end, although none of the other four goalies who played earlier -- Cam Ward and Carey Price for the Staals and Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonas Hiller for the Lidstroms -- fared much better than the netminders who finished things up.

Tim Thomas and Matt Duchene celebrate after holding on to win the All-Star Game. (AP)  
Tim Thomas and Matt Duchene celebrate after holding on to win the All-Star Game. (AP)  
Still, Lundqvist kept the Staals in the game, stopping Patrick Kane on a breakaway and robbing Martin Havlat with a brilliant glove save. It just wasn’t enough to salvage things for the team the fans were rooting for after the Staals frittered away a four-goal lead they had built up before the game was six minutes old.

“We had a great start and the crowd got us going, and we got some quick goals,” captain Eric Staal said. “I don’t know if we started to feel bad or what, but we let them right back in and really opened the game up.”

Then again, that’s what’s supposed to happen in these glorified shinny games where defenders tend to avoid getting in the way of attackers and contact is more accidental than incidental. The NHL hoped to ratchet the intensity by allowing the players to draft their own teams, a new system that ultimately proved to be a better gimmick than the game itself. The desired effect was accomplished to a certain extent in the final 10 minutes as the teams seemed to get a lot more serious when they were tied at 8.

“I think that’s what always happens,” said Team Lidstrom center Jonathan Toews. “The score always goes back and forth in these games and when it’s close near the end, the competitive juices get going and guys want to win.”

Even then, the goals were coming so fast and furious that the public address announcer had trouble keeping up. Danny Briere broke the tie with his second goal of the game, and then Toews and Martin St. Louis scored quickly to give Nicklas Lidstrom’s team what seemed like a comfortable cushion. But Rick Nash finished off a nice feed from Corey Perry to pull the Staals within one again and set the stage for a potentially dramatic finish.

Team Staal pulled their goalie before Loui Eriksson scored his second goal of the game to seemingly ice things, but then Eric Staal scored with 34 seconds left to give the hometown fans one more reason to cheer.

“I was glad to get one through to get the crowd up out of their seats,” Staal said. “It was fun.”

For the most part, so was the game, at least as far as these things go. The players seemed to genuinely enjoy the new format and they treated fans to a nice, if generally unencumbered display of their various skills. The game’s most valuable player, Patrick Sharp, even came from the losing side.

And there were some high jinks as well, with Alex Ovechkin trying to stop the Lidstrom's Matt Duchene on a breakaway by throwing his stick and creating a penalty shot for his effort, and Ryan Kesler skating around for an entire shift with the television microphone cord dangling from under his jersey.

“I was wearing it all period and all of sudden it fell off,” Kesler said. “It was kind of funny dragging it around like that, but it doesn’t matter because we all had a good time.”

No one more than the guy who came away with the victory.

“I really wanted to win this going in today, I just wish I could have helped better in the net,” Thomas said. “But tomorrow I won’t think about it, I’ll just be happy we won. In fact I’m already happy.”

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