ST. PAUL, Minn. -- "The State of Hockey" sure liked the state of hockey witnessed at the 54th NHL All-Star Game Sunday.
The capacity crowd at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, basked in the wide-open, breakneck paced game put on by the NHL All-Stars, as the Eastern Conference notched a 6-4 victory over the Western Conference.
"You always want to have fun in a game like this, but the most important thing is the event was a success and we put on a good show," said Colorado's Joe Sakic, who was named the Bud Light/NHL All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player after notching a hat trick, netting goals in each period.
The East was paced offensively by two goals and an assist from Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson, who spent the majority of the game playing on a line with bitter Northeast Division rivals from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mats Sundin and Gary Roberts.
Roberts had a goal and an assist, with Sundin picking up a pair of assists.
Also enjoying a standout performance was 43-year-old Mark Messier of the New York Rangers. Messier had hinted that this was his All-Star swan song he seemed to soak it all in and enjoy the experience immeasurably. Along the way, Messier broke an All-Star record with his 14th career All-Star assist and he also added a goal in the second period.
"You have to play with pride no matter where you play whether it's an exhibition game or a pre-season game, because the fans deserve it," Messier said. "Today is no different. I thought the guys put on a great show."
For the Western Conference, Sakic's hat trick did the most damage to Eastern goaltenders Martin Brodeur, Jose Theodore and Roberto Luongo, but the trio of Quebec-born goaltenders kept the remainder of the West under control to earn the win. The Vancouver pair of Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi also had strong games. Naslund assisted on all three Sakic goals, and Bertuzzi had assists on Sakic's first two goals.
The 2004 All-Star Game saw a host of young players make their All-Star debuts and the performances of players like Columbus' Rick Nash and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk hit a resounding note with a veteran like Sakic.
"The last couple of years some great, young players have come into the League," Sakic said. "I'm very impressed. The future is bright in this League.
Sakic was still mulling over plans for the Dodge truck he received as the All-Star MVP, and said he started to think he had a shot at it after completing the hat trick.
Colorado's Joe Sakic had the hat trick in the losing cause, and was named the Game's Most Valuable Player.
"After the third goal I started to think I had a chance," Sakic said. "Everyone on the bench was talking about it. I felt good. There were a lot of opportunities and lot of scoring chances."
Kovalchuk solidified his reputation as an electrifying offensive player when he hauled in a loose puck and went coast-to-coast early in the third period, bearing in on Western Conference goalie Dwayne Roloson of the host Minnesota Wild.
Kovalchuk made a nifty move and beat Roloson with a backhander to the stick side before crashing into the end boards, completing the dramatic play that made it 6-3 for the Eastern Conference. But with so much offensive talent jumping over the boards, you figured Kovalchuk's goal wouldn't be the last, and it wasn't as Sakic completed the 14th hat trick in All-Star competition at 7:22 to make it a 6-4 East lead.
The game started off like the goaltenders would turn the tables on the offensive nature of the All-Star Game and dominate. But after New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Dallas' Marty Turco departed after a 1-1 first-period tie, the scorers quickly grabbed the spotlight as goalies Tomas Vokoun of Nashville and Montreal's Jose Theodore for the East were greeted rudely. In all, Vokoun surrendered four goals and Theodore two as the East jumped to a 5-3 lead after two periods.
The East benefited from a fortunate bounce to grab a 2-1 lead just 51 seconds into the second period. Alfredsson scored the unassisted goal as the East came across the blue line on a 3-on-2 break. Alfredsson wound up for a slap shot against Vokoun with Toronto's Mats Sundin racing down the slot. But Alfredsson's shot struck the stick of a Western Conference defender and bounded into the net.
The fast pace that marked the first 20 minutes continued unabated in the second period, as did the solid goaltending. Vokoun stood tall after allowing Alfredsson's goal and shut Kovalchuk down on a partial break at 3:11.
Ilya Kovalchuk made a nifty move and beat Roloson with a backhander to the stick side before crashing into the end boards, completing the dramatic play that made it 6-3 for the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, the Western Conference solved Theodore at 5:44 of the second to tie the game for the second time. Once again it was Sakic teaming with Naslund and Bertuzzi for goal, Sakic's second of the game.
Gaining the Eastern Conference zone, Naslund drew Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray to him, clearing the slot for the breaking Sakic, whose shot beat Theodore high to the stick side.
At 11:47, Theodore flashed some leather to deny Nash, who broke in to Theodore's left and went from his backhand to his forehand in an attempt to lift the puck over Theodore. The glove save followed highlight-reel glovers by Turco and Brodeur in the first.
By now, the players were racing up and down the ice with reckless abandon and the pucks began to find the back of the net. Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes put the Western Conference on top for the first time, 3-2, at 13:02 when he pulled into the front of the net to Theodore's left, faked the defenseman, and sent the puck between the legs of Theodore.
It didn't take long for the Eastern Conference to roar back, 46 seconds to be exact, as New Jersey's Scott Niedermayer got some room to operate in the high slot of the Western Conference zone and deftly passed the puck down low to Messier, who had slipped behind the West defense. Messier beat Vokoun for the sixth All-Star goal of his career. A laughing Messier retrieved the puck and proudly showed it on the Eastern Conference bench.
Less than a minute after Messier scored, the Eastern Conference jumped back into the lead, 4-3, as Roberts scored on assists from Alfredsson and Sundin at 14:41.
Alfredsson popped in a rebound at 18:04 of the period to push the East to a 5-3 lead with Sundin and Roberts assisting on Alfredsson's second of the game.
Mark Messier's assist was the 14th of his legendary career, an NHL All-Star record.
The New York connection of Rangers and Islanders got the Eastern Conference on the scoreboard at 5:44 of the first, with the Rangers' duo of Messier and Jaromir Jagr setting up the Islanders' Adrian Aucoin, who banked a loose puck off Turco and into the net from the right post.
For Messier, the assist was the 14th of his legendary career, an NHL All-Star record.
At this point, both team decided they had settled in enough and turned the remainder of the first into a track meet.
Brodeur, starting in goal for the East, made a couple huge saves with 16:12 remaining in the first as Naslund took a deft pass from Sakic and deflected the puck on a moving Brodeur. The New Jersey Devils goalie made the initial stop and also corralled Naslund's rebound attempt.
Sakic finally got the West on the scoreboard at 13:37. Sakic grabbed a loose puck off the skate of Eastern Conference defenseman Brian Rafalski and backhanded the puck past Brodeur to knot the score. Naslund and Bertuzzi assisted on the goal.
Turco made 10 saves on 11 shots, while Brodeur stopped nine of 10 as the starting netminders fared pretty well in what is usually in offensive show.
Another rarity was a couple of actual checks as the East's Jeremy Roenick and the West's Keith Tkachuk collided on purpose a couple times and then joked about who threw the first hit and who retaliated.