NHL stars come out to play in SuperSkills event
The NHL's brightest stars showed off their individual talents at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Saturday in the NHL SuperSkills competition, which saw the Eastern Conference triumph by a score of 9-6.
The festivities got underway with the obstacle course relay, which had teams integrate stickhandling, saucer passing, one-time shooting and goaltender shooting in a relay format.
Sergei Gonchar of the Pittsburgh Penguins used his familiar one-time blasts from the point to lead his team to the first point for the Eastern Conference.
The next group of Eastern stars doubled the overall lead thanks in large part to the shooting ability of New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, but the Western stars got a point back in the third round, giving the East a slim 2-1 lead through one event.
The league's speed demons then took centre stage in the fastest skater competition.
In the first heats, Brian Campbell of the Buffalo Sabres topped the Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith, Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning beat Anze Kopitar of the L.A. Kings and, finally, Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers narrowly eluded Ilya Kovulchuk of the hometown Atlanta Thrashers.
As the two fastest skaters, Horcoff and Campbell squared off in the final with the Edmonton centre using a quick burst of speed off the line against Campbell to easily the win the event and earn a point.
But Campbell earned an additional point for the fastest average speed, which pushed the East ahead by a score of 3-2.
Next up was the shootout, which tested skaters' ability to beat all-star goaltenders on breakaways.
Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames got the West on the board and advanced to the next round by faking a slapshot then beating Florida Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun to his right.
After several skaters were foiled on their attempts, Scott Gomez of the New York Rangers then decided to take a more conventional approach, using a simple wrist shot from a few feet out to beat Chris Osgoode stick-side.
The Minnesota Wild's Marion Gaborik, Pittsburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin and Kimo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers all advanced to the next round by scoring on their breakaway attempts.
Before Round 2, Phaneuf solicited some advice from Flames teammate Jarome Iginla, and it appeared to pay off as the defenceman used a beautiful fake to catch Boston netminder Tim Thomas leaning, then came back to his left and scored stick-side.
"He scores a lot more goals, so I went over and talked to him," Phaneuf said to CBC Sports about getting advice from his teammate.
Phaneuf surprisingly proved to be the only goal scorer in the finals, earning his team an extra point and allowing the West to pull ahead 4-3.
The game's up-and-comers then took centre stage in a shortened version of the Young Stars game.
Without the presence of any up-and-coming goaltenders, veterans Chris Osgood of the Detroit Red Wings and Thomas volunteered to stand in the path of the offensive fireworks.
Led by some pretty goals from the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers' Marc Staal, the Eastern Conference netted a point in the overall competition by winning the first half, 6-2.
But the West's young guns outscored the East 4-1 in the game's second half to earn a point for the conference and preserve a slim 5-4 lead in the overall skills competition through four events.
In the accuracy shooting event, Jason Arnott of the Nashville Predators was first and set the standard for the West by hitting all four targets in seven attempts.
But then Tomas Kaberle of the Toronto Maple Leafs made an early statement. The defencemen became only the fourth player in the competition's history to hit all four targets on his first four shots.
After both Kaberle and Arnott went 3-for-4 in the final, each had three seconds to hit one shot. Kaberle, a reluctant triggerman in game situations, delivered on his bonus chance, calmly hitting the top right target to earn an extra point for the East to give them a 6-5 lead.
Accuracy then made way for power as the hardest shot competition got underway.
Fresh off his finals appearance in target shooting, Arnott was the first to break the 100-miles-per-hour mark by unleashing a blast at 100.3 mph.
The Lightning's Vincent Lecavalier topped Arnott with his first shot, which registered 101.9 mph, but it was no match for Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.
The giant defenceman uncorked a pair of shots that read 101.4 and 103.1 mph, respectively. With the hardest single shot and the highest average for two shots, Chara earned two more points for the East, staking them to an 8-5 lead.
Rounding out the competition was the newest and most talked-about event, as some of the game's most notable offensive innovators performed before a panel of judges in the breakaway challenge.
The event got off to an auspicious debut as both Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings and the Lightning's St. Louis fizzled on their attempts, earning low scores of 38 and 18 out of a possible 80.
In Round 2, Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks came up with the first truly creative attempt of the night. Getzlaf broke in, turned backwards and attempted to make his move. He was stopped but his innovation helped him advance with a combined score of 56.
Kovaluchuk then proceeded to miss his two attempts, with the second attempt from his knees being the better of the two to give him 52 points.
Gaborik appeared poised to advance after netting 54 points by skating around the net, but Alex Ovechkin upped the degree of difficulty. The Capitals forward bounced the puck off his stick in midair twice, then narrowly missed batting it out of midair but still earned an opening-round high of 57 for his efforts.
In the final, Getzlaf narrowly missed getting off a spinning lacrosse-type scoop shot past DiPietro on his first attempt, while Ovechkin again tried to bat the puck out of the air but added a 360-degree spin.
"Maybe I'll try to do it in a game, but for now, it's just for fun," Ovechkin told CBC Sports.
After Getlzaf missed his last attempt, Ovechkin got off a solid between-the-legs shot to score 60 points in the final and seal the win for the Eastern Conference.
The NHL's stars will get back to thinking within a team concept as they take to the ice for the all-star game on Sunday evening (CBC, 6:30 p.m. ET).