West all-stars win; Briere is MVP
Buffalo's Daniel Briere earned most valuable player honours though his Eastern squad lost in a typically high-scoring NHL all-star game in Dallas on Wednesday night.
Rick Nash and Brian Rolston each finished with two goals and two assists to help lead the Western Conference to a 12-9 victory.
"Listen, I've come a long way," said Briere. "I was once waived a few years ago and nobody even picked me up.
"This night is very special."
It was the first all-star game in three years, following the NHL lockout and Torino Olympics.
Despite that, the players quickly produced the loose affair the game has become in recent years, with plenty of dazzling passing plays and goals, and a dearth of physical contact.
Sakic all-time assists leader
Five of the six goalies who saw action could fairly have been described as beleaguered.
Perennial all-star and potential Hart Trophy candidate Martin Brodeur, for example, was torched in the East's net for six goals on 16 shots, though he did make the game's most spectacular save.
Montreal's Cristobal Huet fared the best of the netminders, facing10 shots in the final period, stopping eight of them.
Yanic Perreault and Martin Havlat each had a pair of goals for the West, backed by one each from Teemu Selanne, Lubomir Visnovsky, Patrick Marleau and Dion Phaneuf, who scored into an empty net.
Nash often prospered due to the play of linemate Joe Sakic, with the Avalanche veteran finishing with four assists.
As a result, Sakic is now the all-time leader with 16 all-star game assists.
Crosby held off scoresheet
For the East, Zdeno Chara had a pair of goals, while Justin Williams, Martin St. Louis, Eric Staal, Alexander Ovechkin, Dany Heatley and Sheldon Souray also scored.
Ottawa's Heatley added two assists, while linemate Marian Hossa— a player he was once traded for— had three helpers.
Much was made before the game of Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby having an opportunity to skate on the same side for the first time, but Crosby, the top vote getter overall, was held off the scoresheet.
"We were both looking for each other a lot," he said. "Sometimes your passes aren't what you'd do in a normal game."
"That's usually what happens in your first all-star game," said Crosby's linemate, Brendan Shanahan. "Most young guys come in here and they overpass."
Briere scores early
The East got on the board just under four minutes into the first when Heatley set up behind the net and found an uncovered Briere, who beat Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, the first of the Western goaltenders.
Perreault, who started the season without a team before signing with Phoenix, soon tied the game. The Coyote redirected Rolston's pass to fool starting Eastern goaltender Ryan Miller.
Just 49 seconds later, Selanne put the West up a goal, shooting over Miller's left shoulder on a 2-on-1 at 6:17. Selanne's goal gave him nine career all-star goals, good for fourth on the all-time list.
The next two goals featured teammates taking advantage of their familiarity with one another.
Tampa's Vincent Lecavalier and St. Louis, along with New Jersey's Brian Rafalski, combined on a three-way passing play that had the Western defence and Luongo moving around. St. Louis found a half-empty net at the 13:07 mark.
Nash got his first point of the game late in the first, drawing an assist on Visnovsky's goal to tie the score 3-3 heading into the first intermission.
Williams was the first player to register two points when he converted a backhand pass from Islander Jason Blake to make it 4-4 just over five minutes into the middle frame.
The East then took what would be their final lead 50 seconds later after Briere sped down the right wing and found Chara, with the big Bruins defenceman making a nifty backhand move to beat Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff.
West seizes control in second frame
But the Western Conference scored five of the last six goals of the period to seize control of the game.
Rolston scored the first and last of those goals on remarkably similar plays, skating down the left wing and blasting shots that trickledpast Brodeur.
Nash, meanwhile, scored a spectacular goal by using his body to shield against a defenceman before proceeding to deke Brodeur.
Perreault, on a pass from Bill Guerin of St. Louis, became the first player with two goals when he scored at the 12:47 mark of the period.
Briere, Heatley team up again
The Western Conference led 9-6 heading into the final period.
Briere and Heatley teamed up again early in the third. This time, it was Briere behind the net doing the playmaking, with Heatley out front to beat Dallas goaltender Marty Turco.
"It's really hard to explain, but whenever we've played together, we've always have a real nice connection," Briere said of his chemistry with Heatley.
The game's longest goal drought ended just under five minutes later as the Western squad reached double digits. Nash roofed yet another pass from Sakic to beat Huet.
While there was no hitting, Huet's teammate Souray raised eyebrows with just 35 seconds left by uncorking a blistering slapshot from the left faceoff circle that Turco wanted no part of.
Calgary's Phaneuf would finalize the scoring with a long shot from his own end that winded its way into the empty net.
The all-star game will be played in Atlanta next year, with Montreal hosting in 2009 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens.
With files from the Canadian Press