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East tops West in SuperSkills

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
ATLANTA (AP) -Alex Ovechkin won the breakaway challenge in the NHL's SuperSkills competition Saturday night, leading the Eastern Conference to a 9-6 victory over the West in the preview to the All-Star game.

Ovechkin's artistry was rewarded by a panel of judges who rewarded creativity over scoring shots.

Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk went to his knees for a sliding attempt. Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf went behind the net before shooting. Washington's Ovechkin bounced the puck off his stick before whiffing on a baseball swing but still earned 32 points.

For his second try, Ovechkin scooped the puck off the ice, flipped it into the air, spun on the ice and took another baseball swing - again missing but again drawing big points from the celebrity panel of former Thrashers captain Scott Mellanby, NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks, actor Taylor Kitsch and broadcaster Bill Clement.

Ovechkin wasn't the only East player taking individual honors in the skills competition. Toronto's Tomas Kaberle was the most accurate shooter and Boston's Zdeno Chara fired the hardest shot at 103.1 mph before Ovechkin won the final event. 

Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov took part in a pair of SuperSkills events, first firing one-timers at a target in the middle of the net from the blue line as part of the Obstacle Course Relay.  The first-time All-Star went 3-for-4, the best among all participants.  Markov also gave the hardest shot competition a go, recording shots at 95.9 and 96.9 mph.
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Fancy shooting by New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro helped the East win the obstacle course, the first competition. DiPietro capped the second round by successfully making two shots across the ice into the other net.

Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff answered by winning the fastest skater competition for the Western Conference. Horcoff beat Kovalchuk to earn a spot in the final against Buffalo's Brian Campbell, who opened by winning a sprint against Chicago's Duncan Keith. Horcoff won the final race against Campbell.

There appeared to be come confusion in the judging for the Horcoff-Kovalchuk race. Kovalchuk appeared to clearly beat Horcoff in the race from the goal line to the opposite blue line, and the Atlanta forward lined up for an apparent rematch as Atlanta fans chanted "Kovy! Kovy!"

Ultimately, there was no rematch and Horcoff was ruled the winner.

Calgary's Dion Phaneuf then saved the West in the elimination shootout. Phaneuf was the only one of his conference's shooters to score in the first three rounds, and the New York Rangers' Scott Gomez, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen advanced from the East.

In the elimination round, however, Phaneuf scored against Boston goalie Tim Thomas, who was left spinning on his back in front of the net. St. Louis goalie Manny Legace stopped Gomez, Malkin and Timonen, giving the win to Phaneuf and the Western stars.

The East took the YoungStars' game 7-6 behind Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky and Washington's Nicklas Backstrom, who scored two goals apiece in the three-on-three matchup involving players 25 and younger.

Kaberle was the East's champion in shooting accuracy, hitting targets on eight of nine shots through three rounds. In the last round, Kaberle hit his one shot after Nashville's Jason Arnott - the top shooter from the West - missed.
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