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All-Star fan support obvious for Penguins

by Adam Kimelman /
When the television ratings for the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover come in, don't be surprised to see the Pittsburgh region well-represented in the Nielsen numbers.

Because based on vote totals, the Penguins' fan base is very interested in seeing their favorite players suit up in Raleigh.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has led fan balloting at forward, as well as in the overall count, since the first leaderboard was unveiled last month, and with 523,822 votes, he's got a very healthy lead heading into the final week of fan voting. While Crosby has more than a half-million votes, no other player has more than 400,000.

However, the Pittsburgh captain is not the only Penguin to rank high on the leaderboard.

Penguins players occupy the top three spots and four of the top seven in results announced Tuesday.

Immediately trailing Crosby are defenseman Kris Letang and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who each lead their respective position. Forward Evgeni Malkin is seventh, third among forwards.

The Penguins also have four forwards -- Crosby, Malkin, Maxime Talbot (No. 34) and Chris Kunitz (No. 45) -- among the top 50 forwards in votes; only the Flyers have more, with five. They also have a League-best three defensemen in the top 20 -- Letang, Paul Martin (No. 10) and Brooks Orpik (No. 20).

With the top three forwards, two defensemen and goaltender in fan balloting guaranteeing themselves spots in the 42-player pool for the Ultimate Fantasy Draft that will set the rosters for the All-Star Game, it looks like the RBC Center could have a Pittsburgh feel to it.

"They've been great for us," Fleury said of the fans. "The past couple of years they always have other guys up there, but it's pretty cool to have the support of the fans like that to help us all out to make it."

Fleury is the latest Penguin to feel the love of the home fans. A look at the leaderboard from Nov. 29 showed Fleury third among goalies, trailing the Canadiens' Carey Price by 53,631 votes. But over the last month, Fleury has slashed that lead. It didn't hurt that the Penguins were in the midst of a 12-game win streak that propelled them to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Fleury continued to narrow the gap until this past week, when his 52,027 votes pushed him past Price.

"I've never been there (All-Star Game), so I think it will be pretty cool to be part of, to attend," said Fleury.

Malkin also looks to have locked up a spot in the All-Star pool. He passed Steven Stamkos for the No. 3 spot two weeks ago and now has a 19,961-vote lead on the Lightning forward.

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