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Lecavalier expects to finish season in Tampa Bay

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MONTREAL (AP) -Vincent Lecavalier was immediately greeted with questions about recent trade rumors that speculated about the possibility of the Tampa Bay Lightning center making a homecoming with the All-Star host Montreal Canadiens.

Lecavalier, who grew up in suburban Montreal, was asked if he expected to finish the season with Tampa Bay.

"I think I will, but in the end, it's not up to me to answer a question like that because it's a bit out of my control," Lecavalier said. "A lot of things have been said over the last few weeks. Montreal is a great city and I'm happy to be here for the All-Star break."

The Lightning fired head coach Barry Melrose 16 games into the season after the team got off to a 5-7-4 start. Tampa Bay is tied for 11th in the East with 42 points, nine points behind eighth-place Carolina.

"When you have 17 new players on a team it's hard to get your season off to a good start," Lecavalier said. "Teams that win Stanley Cups have good chemistry. We had two or three weeks to get together and gel. We've been playing better over the last month and a half, particularly in the last week, when we've shown that we can compete."

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A GUARANTEED HIT: Alexander Ovechkin guaranteed that he will improve on his showing in last year's inaugural breakaway challenge.

"I'm going to hit the puck," said Ovechkin, who fanned on his attempt to bat the puck past Detroit's Chris Osgood after he juggled the puck on the blade of his stick before spinning around to take a baseball swing during the skills competition event's debut in Atlanta.

The Washington Capitals superstar will be challenged by Montreal's Alex Kovalev, along with Chicago's Patrick Kane, Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis.

"It was really cool," Kane said. "Just watching it last year I was hoping one day, if I made the All-Star game, that I could be in that competition and try to pull some moves for the fans."

None of the participants - St. Louis, a late replacement for Sidney Crosby, was not on hand for Friday's media availability - would tip their hand on what fans might expect to see in the event, whose winner will be determined by text message voting.

"I've asked him too so my guess is just as good as yours," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "He's not letting me in on any secrets, nor has he asked me for any help or advice. I'm excited to see what he does and what those other guys can put together, too."

Getzlaf has been shown in a TV promo for the event displaying a lacrosse-style move where he scoops up the puck on the blade of his stick and flings it into the net.

Would he use it in a game?

"No, definitely not," Getzlaf said. "The odd time, you try some of the moves, but picking it up is not really one that's in my game."

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GARDEN PARTY: A matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Boston Bruins looms early in the second half of the season.

Led by Western Conference captain Joe Thornton, San Jose (34-6-5) has 73 points in 45 games. Boston (34-8-5), leading the Eastern Conference, has 73 points in 47 games.

The teams meet at the TD Banknorth Garden on Feb. 10.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Bruins center Marc Savard said. "Everybody's got it circled on their calendar. Obviously, Joe coming back to Boston, too. I think he's played there once and he got kicked out in the first period so it's going to be special for Boston to see him play and it's going to be a great matchup."

Thornton, chosen first overall by the Bruins in the 1997 draft, was traded to San Jose on Nov. 30, 2005, in return for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau.

"They were struggling there for a couple of years but I'm glad they're back up top," Thornton said. "They've had a great team this year and it's going to be exciting, two of the best teams in the NHL going toe-to-toe in February."

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"USA! USA!": Veteran St. Louis Blues left wing Keith Tkachuk has fond memories from the early days of the Bell Centre.

Tkachuk was a member of the American team that won the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996.

Team USA recovered from losing the opening game of the best-of-three final against Canada in Philadelphia with two wins in Montreal's new downtown arena, then known as the Molson Centre.

"It was unbelievable," Tkachuk said. "That was a difficult environment to play in and winning two games in a row - I remember walking over to the rink before Game 3 and just the crazy people driving around with painted faces and waving flags. And then when you win, you come out and it was a ghost town. It made me feel pretty good."

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