DALLAS -- What an opening act the NHL YoungStars Game proved to be Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center!
The game, featuring 23 of the NHL's brightest stars from the under-25 set, had the crowd on the edge of its seats throughout most of the 4-on-4 game. When all said and done, the Eastern Conference YoungStars held on for a pulsating 9-8 victory. It preceded the SuperSkills competition later Tuesday, as well as Wednesday night's NHL All-Star Game.
The East's win was spurred by the six points from YoungStars MVP Zach Parise of New Jersey and a hat trick from Boston's Phil Kessel, who is just a month removed from undergoing successful surgery for testicular cancer.
"It was fun, you could see a lot of the skill that was out there," said Parise, who had two goals and four assists. "It was a fun game with a lot of offense."
In fact, Parise started the offensive fireworks for the East with a goal at the 92-second mark of the first period, which answered the opening goal of the game, a strike from Los Angeles forward Anze Kopitar just 27 seconds into the game.
Parise's other goal came 2:41 into the final period, giving the East what should have been a commanding 8-3 lead. On the play, Parise took a pass from Tampa Bay's Paul Ranger and scored on a modified spin-o-rama move while sitting on the far post.
But the West scored five of the next six goals to make things interesting at the end and account for the 9-8 final score.
"You could see when we were up by just one goal in the last 30 seconds or so, the intensity picked up a little out there," said Parise.
The East's only goal in that impressive run by the West came from Kessel, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in early December. That goal, assisted by Mike Green and Parise, proved to be the game-winner.
"I had fun out there, it was a good time," said Kessel.
Most everybody agreed, even the two goalies, who were under siege throughout the evening. Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen finished with 16 saves in earning the win. Colorado's Peter Budaj, meanwhile, notched 19 saves.
In a game full of interesting moments, Lehtonen provided one of the most interesting in the waning moments of the game. He wandered out of the crease almost to the side wall to play a puck, but lost control of the puck before Nashville's Alexander Radulov stole the puck and dumped it into the empty net to make it 9-8 with 2:09 left in the contest.
"My goal there was to give (Dallas forward) Jussi Jokinen there a chance before the home crowd to tie the game, that's why I gave up the eighth goal there," Lehtonen said. "He got a nice chance, but he wasn't able to score. "
Eastern Conference goaltender Kari Lehtonen earned the win in the YoungStars Game, but his stats weren't pretty.
Still, Lehtonen defended his ill-fated choice to wander from the crease.
"My skills were there, but the ice was bad," the goalie deadpanned.
Another interesting moment came during the West comeback when San Jose defenseman Matt Carle scored a shorthanded goal just 50 seconds before Radulov's goal. It was the first special-teams goal in the history of YoungStar competition and came while Chicago's Brent Seabrook was in the box for hooking.
Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf also played a huge part in the West's late charge, scoring back-to-back goals 84 seconds apart in the third period.
Amazingly, Getzlaf was playing with brand-new equipment as his bag was lost in transit between California and Texas. He borrowed teammate Teemu Selanne's socks and gloves, but otherwise was kitted out in all spanking-new equipment, including never-before-used skates.
Afterward, Getzlaf heaped praise on Selanne's gloves for his scoring prowess, especially on a roof shot under the cross bar that accounted for his second goal.
"It was Teemu's gloves," Getzlaf said. "They just had to heat up. Teemu didn't put the juice in them."
There may not have been juice in Teemu's gloves, but there was plenty of electricity throughout the YoungStars Game.
"We were here to have fun, score some goals, show some skill and have a good time," said Ottawa defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who was often found cherry-picking in the neutral zone and scored both of his goals From inside the dots, a rarity for defensemen in more traditional play.
If that was indeed the mandate, the YoungStars passed the test with flying colors and kicked off Tuesday's festivities in grand fashion.