LOS ANGELES -- Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau has a plan to help the Central Division win the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Staples Center on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).
"I'm going to look to call an illegal stick," Boudreau said. "If it comes down to crunch time I'm going to be measuring sticks."
Boudreau laughed, but it's clear that he is in it to win it Sunday. He's not alone.
The 3-on-3 All-Star Game tournament format debuted to much acclaim last year in Nashville. It was unique, exciting, and incentive-filled, with the victorious Pacific Division players dividing up $1 million.
The Atlantic Division won the 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday and chose to play the Metropolitan Division in the second game on Sunday. The Central and Pacific will play each other in the first game. The two winners will face off for $1 million.
Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, an All-Star for the second straight season, said he expects this tournament to be more competitive.
"You can look really foolish if you don't give it a hundred percent out there," said Doughty, a member of the Pacific Division team. "You can't hide on the ice at 3-on-3, so you're going to have to be giving it the whole time and that causes us to play hard and put on a good show for the fans and the NHL."
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Doughty's comments on effort versus embarrassment in the 3-on-3 format were echoed by many of his fellow All-Stars on Saturday.
"You have to go back and forth, back and forth and you have to play with your guy," said Washington Capitals captain and Metropolitan Division forward Alex Ovechkin, who did not play in Nashville last season because of an injury. "It's not like circling around, [having] fun and smiling. You have to work."
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said he has already talked to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, the Metropolitan captain as voted by the fans, about the effort they expect to give.
"We're going for it here," Jones said. "We're going to be working."
That attitude going into an All-Star Game catches the attention of the goalies, who will be tested by the 3-on-3 format, with each game consisting of two 10-minute halves.
Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith of the Pacific called it "a little bit scary. For five minutes it's fine, but 10 or 20, it could be a little bit hectic. I'm honored to be here and the 3-on-3 will be a lot of fun and scary at the same time. But we're going to enjoy it."
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Part of the players' excitement for the 3-on-3 tournament stems from the comfort of knowing what to expect. They went in blind last season, and it took some feeling-out time in the first two games before they felt comfortable in knowing what they could try, what they could get away with, and how hard they had to play.
The Metropolitan and Atlantic played at a slow, plodding pace in the first game, won by the Atlantic 4-3. The second game, a 9-6 Pacific victory against the Central, had a much faster tempo.
Forward Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks scored the lone goal in an intense final, a 1-0 Pacific win against the Atlantic. San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns of the Pacific said players were "mucking and grinding" and that the competitive nature of the players was evident.
"It seems like the NHL got it right," said Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane, a member of the Central Division team who played in last year's game. "I think after a couple years where people were saying the All-Star Game wasn't what it should be they did a great job last year. It seemed like more people tuned in and paid attention to the whole thing. For us as players you come here and you know you're going to be competing. It should be fun."
Fun but serious, at least to Boudreau, who already has made known who he'll target for an illegal stick check if he gets the Central into the final against the Metropolitan. He'll be wearing No. 8, just as he does for the Capitals.
"If we're in the final against them [Ovechkin] better be using a straight stick," Boudreau said.
Upon hearing that, Ovechkin had a three-word response.
"Settle down, Bruce," he said, laughing.