KANATA, Ont. -- Typically after any game, win or lose, Boston captain Zdeno Chara is stone-faced and intense when he meets the media. Sunday night at Scotiabank Place, he was grinning from cheek to cheek.
Chara returned to Ottawa, the city where his NHL career took root, and captained the team that escaped with a 12-9 victory in the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game at Scotiabank Place. He scored the winning goal, his Bruins teammate Tim Thomas was the winning goalie for a record fourth-straight All-Star Game, and his Slovakian countrymen Marian Gaborik earned MVP honors with a hat trick and four points.
"You can't ask for anything better," Chara said. "We want to enjoy ourselves, have fun, and most of all we want to put on a good show."
Chara and the rest of the All-Stars made good on all three of those goals Sunday night before an appreciative audience.
Daniel Alfredsson, by all accounts the star of the show as the hockey icon in Ottawa, scored two goals and added an assist, coming close to winning the MVP honors. He had what seemed like an eternity shift at the end of the game as he tried to complete the hat trick, but Thomas would have none of it.
Thomas made 18 saves, including four on Alfredsson, to come away with a win in the All-Star Game for the fourth consecutive time. Team Chara scored six times in the third period, including Chara's goal with 7:40 to play that put his team up 10-8.
"I wasn't thinking about (Alfredsson's) hat trick; I just didn't want to let the other team get any closer," Thomas said. "The way these games go, three goals happen in a minute and a half. I didn't want to let anybody score; it wasn't anything about Alfie."
Chara, though, admitted he was pulling for Alfredsson, his old teammate.
"He was close. He hit a post and then he had a few chances. It was in his hands," Chara said. "Alfie is such a classy guy and obviously a big icon in Ottawa and Sweden, as well. He's such a great player to represent this team, so of course I'm pulling for him."
Alfredsson was hardly complaining. His weekend was far too special to fret over falling short on his attempt at a hat trick or even a win -- though both would have been special.
"From a selfish point it's going to rank really high, where it's just a whole ego weekend, pretty much," Alfredsson said when asked where the entire All-Star experience will rank among his career highlights.
"Personally, I feel healthy. I'm having fun on the ice again," he continued. "And, to have a weekend like this, it's surreal. You can never dream of anything like this, and you don't really know how to embrace it. I don't think until tonight, after the kids go to bed, you can kind of sit and relax -- I'm sure I'll be dead tired, but I'll take it all in and realize that this is something that not everybody gets a chance to experience. I don't know if I deserve it or not, but it's definitely humbling."
The weekend was just as special for Boston coach Claude Julien, who returned to his hometown to coach Team Chara with all of his Bruins' assistants as another reward for winning the Stanley Cup this past season.
"Being in my hometown, it was pretty special," Julien said. "I think the people realized in this All-Star Game, seeing the players being interviewed and what they did in the community, that they're not only special players on the ice but they're special players off the ice. They're all quality people. Even for us (coaches) to be able to put our competitive side away for a weekend and get a chance to talk to these guys, they're great people and it gives you a lot more respect for the individual."
The good feelings weren't limited to the guys with Ottawa ties. For instance, Toronto forward Joffrey Lupul, who was roundly booed by the Senators fans all weekend, called the entire experience "almost surreal."
Lupul, who shared the weekend with his mom, brothers and grandmother, has played with four teams, including the Ducks twice, and has dealt with a spinal cord contusion and a blood infection in his back, limiting him during his first seven seasons in the NHL. This season, he's not only tied for fifth in the NHL with 52 points, but he was named an assistant captain to Chara for All-Star Weekend.
"Going into the season, I probably wouldn't have anticipated being an All-Star," said Lupul, who scored a pair of goals in the game. "Then, I was shocked at being named assistant captain and getting to do all the extra stuff here, picking the teams and picking the guys for the skills competition. It's all stuff I never would have anticipated. The whole weekend was great. I had fun. I got to share it with some friends and family and it couldn't have been a better experience."
Gaborik, who completed his hat trick early in the second period, came away with the hardware and a $25,000 donation to a charity of his choice. He earned it by winning the trash-talking battle with teammate Henrik Lundqvist.
Gaborik and Lundqvist were going back and forth on Twitter all weekend, but the forward got the best of his goalie by scoring twice on him in the first period. After Gaborik's first goal, the first of the game at 4:34, he whipped around and pretended his stick was a gun and he was shooting at Lundqvist.
Rangers teammate Artem Anisimov did the same thing in a game earlier this season, and caught heat for it. Everyone laughed at Gaborik on Sunday.
"I wouldn't do it any other way, but I wanted to do it against Henrik to get a celebration there," Gaborik said. "I don't think he was too happy about that."
Lundqvist wasn't, but he got past it.
"He definitely won this one. No question," Lundqvist said. "I have to give it to him."
Who knows, he might even try to get him back some way once they get back to New York.
Speaking of which, the regular-season schedule resumes on Tuesday with 13 games, including a trip to Boston by Alfredsson and the Senators to play Chara, Thomas, Julien and the Bruins.
They were close this weekend, all friends, but it'll be back to normal on Tuesday. The memories of their shared Ottawa All-Star experience, though, won't fade any time soon -- if ever.
"The atmosphere was unbelievable. It was great," Detroit forward Pavel Datsyuk said. "You can see, I'm not tired, I'm smiling."
Everybody was smiling.
"This weekend is something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," said Bruins forward Tyler Seguin.