Florida hosts 53rd NHL All-Stars Sunday

SUNRISE, Fla., Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Cynics have a field day with the NHL All-Star Game - it's a one-dimensional scoring binge tarnished by the absence of five of hockey's best players and produced essentially for the league's corporate sponsors but, at least, it won't end in a tie.

Should the 53rd NHL All-Star Game be tied at the end of regulation on Sunday afternoon at the Office Depot Center, there will be a five-minute sudden-death overtime period. If the deadlock is not broken, there will be an Olympic-style shootout to determine a winner.


A shootout would be the only vestige of the Olympics after the NHL abandoned the North America vs. the World format in favor of the more traditional Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference.

The West appears to have the advantage after the East lost five players, including starters Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins and defenseman Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers.

Lemieux, a three-time All-Star MVP, is skipping the event to recover from a nagging groin injury while Leetch remains sidelined by a bruised ankle. Toronto Maple Leafs teammates Mats Sundin and Ed Belfour begged off to rest injuries that sidelined them early in January and Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu has a pre-arranged checkup to monitor his recovery from abdominal cancer.


"Maybe on paper it looks like the Western Conference is better, but I think it's a different game," said Washington Capitals winger Jaromir Jagr, who was elected to the starting lineup for the 11th straight year.

Jagr is joined in the East starting lineup by former Penguins teammate Alexei Kovalev, defensemen Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils and Sandis Ozolinsh and Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.

Ozolinsh was set to represent the host Florida Panthers, but they traded him Thursday to the Mighty Ducks ofAnaheim. To maintain balance between the conferences, the 30-year-old Latvian will play for the East.

Despite a sub-par season by his lofty standards, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy was voted to the Western Conference lineup. Avalanche teammate Rob Blake starts on defense alongside two-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings.

Former All-Star MVPs Bill Guerin of Dallas and Teemu Selanne of the San Jose Sharks flank Stars center Mike Modano up front.


Among the Western Conference reserves are Vancouver Canucks teammates Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Naslund leads the NHL with 35 goals and, with Bertuzzi, plays on one of the league's most productive lines.

The trio should provide a level of comfort for West Coach Marc Crawford, who has the Canucks sitting atop the Northwest Division at the All-Star break.

Eastern Conference Coach Jacques Martin of the Ottawa Senators also has three of his own players in the lineup in 6-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara, high-scoring winger Marian Hossa and goalie Patrick Lalime, who replaced Belfour.

The players on the ice Sunday account for four Norris Trophies and two Selke Trophies, but don't expect much defense. The last 12 All-Star Games have averaged 16 goals, highlighted by the 2001 contest won by North America, 14-12.

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