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All-Stars East vs. All-Stars West @NHLdotcom

GAME: Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference.

SITE: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.

TIME: Sunday, 3 p.m. EST.

Eastern and Western Conference squads that feature some of the league's best young players meet at the 3 1/2-year-old Xcel Energy Center Sunday afternoon for the 54th NHL All-Star Game. The arena is the home of the Minnesota Wild. The NHL announced Thursday that next year's All-Star game will be hosted by another recent expansion team, the Atlanta Thrashers.

The players hope to put on an All-Star game that should place the spotlight on the next generation of NHL stars, as 15 players are set to make their All-Star debuts. The Eastern Conference will start spectacular 20-year-old forward Ilya Kovalchuk of the Thrashers, the top pick in the 2001 draft who leads his conference with 27 goals.

He'll be joined by rising franchise cornerstones such as Boston's Joe Thornton and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis on the East squad.

Youth will also be served in the West. NHL goal-scoring leader Rick Nash, 19, in his second season since Columbus made him the top draft pick in 2002, is expected to play despite a bruised left foot he suffered last Saturday.

The West team also features 25-year-old Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit, enjoying a breakout season with 25 goals and 30 assists; 29-year-old Todd Bertuzzi of Vancouver, who has continued to establish himself as one of the NHL's dominant power forwards this season, and Bertuzzi's Canucks linemate Markus Naslund, 30, the NHL points leader and West captain.

Both squads also will look to young players in goal, with 24-year-old Luongo and Montreal's Jose Theodore, 27, ready to man the East's net. The West boasts 28-year-old Marty Turco of Dallas as its starter.

The NHL's veteran stars, however, aren't ready to completely pass the torch to their younger peers. Luongo and Theodore will defer to East starter Martin Brodeur of New Jersey, who continued to build on his Hall of Fame credentials with a league-best 10 shutouts and a 1.93 goals-against average in the first half of the season.

Mark Messier, the New York Rangers' 43-year-old captain, earned his 15th All-Star berth, while Colorado defenseman Rob Blake, enjoying perhaps the best season of his 16-year career, will anchor the West's blue line.

"The All-Star game should be at a high pace," said 34-year-old Philadelphia Flyers center Jeremy Roenick, making his ninth All-Star appearance. "We have some good players going, and I'm sure Minnesota is going to roll out the red carpet and be sure to treat it with the respect it deserves."

One veteran who will be noticeably absent is 39-year-old Devils defenseman Scott Stevens, who was voted in as a starter but won't be able to play because of post-concussion symptoms. Powerful New Jersey, though, still has enough outstanding players at the position to give the Devils both starting defense spots.

Brian Rafalski, Stevens' usual partner on defense, will start in his place, joining East captain Scott Niedermayer.

The East also won't have Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Mario Lemieux, who had his season cut short by another hip injury after just 10 games.

Pat Quinn of the Toronto Maple Leafs will coach the Eastern Conference, while the Red Wings' Dave Lewis will guide the West All-Stars.

STARTING LINEUP: East - F Kovalchuk, Atlanta; F St. Louis, Tampa Bay; C Thornton, Boston; D Niedermayer, New Jersey; D Rafalski, New Jersey. West - F Bill Guerin, Dallas; F Bertuzzi, Vancouver; C Mike Modano, Dallas; D Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit; D Blake, Colorado.

GOALTENDERS: East - Brodeur, New Jersey (25-15-9, 10 SO, 1.93 GAA); Luongo, Florida (15-23-10, 3, 2.46); Theodore, Montreal (22-18-5, 5, 2.08). West - Turco, Dallas (26-17-9, 5, 2.06); Dwayne Roloson, Minnesota (13-13-8, 3, 1.98); Tomas Vokoun, Nashville (24-19-5, 2, 2.53).

TEAM LEADERS: East - Kovalchuk, Atlanta, 27 goals; Thornton, Boston, 39 assists; Robert Lang, Washington, 64 points. West - Nash, Columbus, 31 goals; Alex Tanguay, Colorado, 42 assists; Naslund, Vancouver, 67 points.

LAST YEAR'S GAME: Feb. 2, 2003; West, 6-5. At Sunrise, Fla., Dany Heatley tied the All-Star game record with four goals and assisted on the other East score to garner MVP honors, but it wasn't enough as the West won in the first shootout in NHL history. Heatley was also the only East player to score past Turco in the shootout, won 3-1 by the West.

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