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All-Star goalies get to pick their poison

by Shawn P. Roarke
MONTREAL -- The four goalies involved in the Gatorade NHL Elimination Shootout sure looked cool as can be Friday afternoon as they decided their fate for the closing event of Saturday night's Honda/NHL All-Star SuperSkills.

There the goaltenders were -- Boston's Tim Thomas, Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom, Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers -- sitting in Le Grand Salon of the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel, yukking it up as they pulled name-inscribed pucks to reveal the opponents they would face in the survivor-style competition.

This is the first time the NHL has allowed the goalies to pick the shooters; in past incarnations, the lineup was random. The draw was held Friday between the media availability sessions for the Western Conference and Eastern Conference players.

In the Elimination Shootout competition, each goalie will face nine All-Star shooters in the ultimate one-on-one challenge. If a player scores, he advances to the next round. If not, the shooter is done for the night. The 1-on-1 showdowns continue until only one shooter is left on the ice.

"I kept picking names and there was no break, every guy was so skilled," said Lundqvist, who looked particularly troubled when he drew the name of Tampa Bay's Vinnie Lecavalier in the third round. "It was really hard."

How hard? The 36 shooters have combined to score 557 goals this season, and nine players have already topped the 20-goal mark.

Here are some more sobering numbers. Minnesota's Backstrom probably has the hardest task, as the lineup he faces has scored 154 goals. Lundqvist faces a 140-goal roster. Thomas' foes have managed 138 goals, while Giguere gets off "easy" with a lineup that has accounted for "only" 110 goals this season.

Yet, despite the daunting odds, the quartet of goalies remained upbeat. Talk about whistling past the graveyard.

When Lundqvist picked Zdeno Chara, the Bruins defenseman with the booming 100-mph slapper, Thomas, a teammate of Chara in Boston, tried to contain a laugh.

"I hope he doesn't hit you," Thomas teased. "I hope he misses the net."

But Thomas even had some fun at his own expense. Upon drawing Atlanta sniper Ilya Kovalchuk with his first selection, Thomas visibly grimaced.

"He turns me around so much that it almost hurts," Thomas groaned to the nearby Lundqvist. Thomas also drew NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh as well as Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who has a League-leading 31 goals. 

Moderator Pierre Houde, an RDS commentator, tried to soothe the nerves of Thomas by pointing out that the goalie has denied Ovechkin in two of the three penalty-shot/shootout situations in which the pair has engaged.

"The odds are in your favor," Houde chuckled.

"I don't think so," said Thomas.

But in a fun twist, Thomas got rid of one of his headaches.

Each goalie was allowed to trade one player after all the players had been picked, so Thomas dealt Kovalchuk to Backstrom for the right to face Alex Kovalev, the darling of the Bell Centre.

In the other trade, Giguere traded for the right to face close friend Martin St. Louis of the Lightning. He paid a hefty price though as Lundqvist was able to get Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas, who has all of two goals this season. St. Louis has 17.

"I don't think the trade helped me, but that's all Backstrom would give me," Thomas said of the deal that landed him Kovalev.

Kovalev is actually the more polished shootout threat, having scored on 9 of 28 (32.1 percent) of his penalty shot/shootout opportunities. Kovalchuk is 8-for-27 (29.6 percent). Yet, Thomas was happy to get away from the shifty Atlanta scorer.

"It's the old saying; your jockstrap is in the rafters when you face that guy," Thomas said.

Kovalev was not happy to be traded.

"The trade was made behind my back," he fumed in mock indignation. "It's not right."

But in the end, he said it won't matter. He'll do what he'll do in the competition, no matter the foe.

"I don't look at the goalie," he said. "If you do your best and do what you want to do, that's your best chance to score and it doesn't matter if you are going against the best goalie in the League or the worst goalie."

Lundqvist tried to match Kovalev's cavalier attitude. But it's not as easy to do when you are facing a lineup of nine shooters that have managed 140 goals this season.

"I think I'll be able to get to sleep tonight," he deadpanned.

Lundqvist better get some shuteye. He -- and the other three All-Star goalies involved in the Elimination Shootout -- will need their rest for Saturday night's SuperSkills curtain-dropping spectacle.

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