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March Mania

NHL All-Star Game: Stars shine bright

RALEIGH, N.C. -- In the years to come, Raleigh's first NHL All-Star Game will be remembered for many things, perhaps the least of which may be the final score or who had the winning goal.

Eric Staal was a team captain. Jeff Skinner, just 18, captivated the masses and was the youngest All-Star ever. Cam Ward was the first pick of the first All-Star Fantasy Draft and was making his first All-Star appearance.

In other words, the All-Star Game had a distinct Carolina Hurricanes flavor to it. All that was left Sunday to cap off the perfect All-Star weekend, it seemed, was for Team Staal to win the game with Staal and Skinner scoring goals while Ward prevented them.

Ah, the rub. The captain on the other side, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings, knows a few things about winning big games and stealing the moment.

When Team Staal bolted to a 4-0 lead in the first six minutes, Canes fans who helped pack the arena were roaring. But Team Lidstrom staged the biggest winning comeback in All-Star Game history, taking an 11-10 victory.

"It was great, and a great atmosphere," Lidstrom said. "The crowd was really into the whole game, cheering all the goals."

Some louder than others. Staal did score twice, and the Caniacs were hoping Skinner would get his.

Team Staal did its best to oblige. Forwards Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils and Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche kept looking for Skinner, passing to Skinner.

"We were trying as much as possible," Elias said, smiling. "I think we overdid it. We could have had a lot more goals, but obviously he's very popular here and a great player and we wanted him to score."

Skinner came close. Early in the second period he was open in front of the net but fired high. Later in the period, goaltender Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks robbed him with a terrific pad save.

"Unfortunately I couldn't get one in," said Skinner, who did have one assist. "But it was fun."

Ward started in goal for Team Staal had a shutout going for more than half of the first period. But the 4-0 lead didn't hold, and Team Lidstrom tied it 4-4 on a breakaway goal by forward Matt Duchene of the Avalanche at 16:30 of the first.

Duchene later made All-Star Game history. Free for another breakaway in the third period, Duchene was stymied as Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals hurled his stick across the ice to knock away the puck.

"It was funny," Duchene said, grinning. "He made a good toss to where I was going to skate. He threw me off."

Duchene then was stoned by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on the penalty shot, but Team Lidstrom scored just enough to win.

Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars, Danny Briere of the Philadelphia Flyers and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings each had a pair of goals. Eriksson's second, an empty-netter with 1:11 left in regulation, proved to be the winner and he also had two assists.

But it wasn't all offense. Lidstrom, who has been a part of four Stanley Cup titles with the Wings, had a plus-7 rating, the best in an All-Star Game since 1991, Defenseman Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators was plus-6, with four assists.

"He picked the winning team and was plus-seven. That's a pretty good night for Nick Lidstrom," Staal said. "He played a great game."

Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins played the third period and was the winning goaltender, becoming the first to post victories in three consecutive All-Star games.

The MVP came from the losing team. The award went to Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks, who had a goal and two assists for Team Staal and was left shaking his head.

"I thought we won the game," Sharp joked. "It's one of those games where there's lots of offense. Some pretty plays out there, lots of goals on both sides. I'm honored to win the trophy."

With Team Lidstrom leading 11-9, Staal scored with 33.6 seconds left_the sixth career All-Star Game goal for the Canes' team captain. But time soon ran out on Team Staal.

No complaints, though.

"It was incredible," Staal said. "I thought the atmosphere, especially at the start, was awesome.

"It was a lot of fun. We came up a little bit short but it was a good game overall."