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Stars aligned for big show in Raleigh

by Corey Masisak
The RBC Center holds a little more than 18,000 fans when set up for hockey, and it has a well-earned reputation as one of the loudest arenas in the NHL for big games.

If there was any concern about the new format for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover removing the rooting interest for the home fans, Carolina captain Eric Staal made sure the Caniacs in attendance will not have split allegiances. Thanks to some deft drafting by its captain, Team Staal will boast all three members of the Carolina Hurricanes when the puck is dropped Sunday for the League's showcase of stars.

"When you have Team Staal in that building you know it's going to be fun," Carolina's Jeff Skinner told "The crowd will get behind us and it's going to be a great atmosphere in the building. There will be a lot of memories to come out of this for sure."

There was plenty of hype leading up to the Cisco Player Fantasy Draft, a unique wrinkle for this All-Star Weekend. On Sunday afternoon it will be time to find out if talent evaluation is among the world-class skills of Staal and Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

If the trio of Hurricanes teaming up isn't the biggest storyline for this contest, then the fact that Daniel and Henrik Sedin will not be wearing the same color sweater might be. The twins have been teammates for as long as they've been playing hockey, but Lidstrom selected Henrik one pick after Staal grabbed Daniel so the Vancouver Canucks stars will be on opposite benches Sunday.

"I think it'll be fun; but we're used to playing with each other so I'm sure it'll be different," Daniel Sedin said. "We had a lot of fun talking about it before the game, but it's more for the media and the fans. The talk back home (in Sweden) was the same as it was here. Everyone is excited that it's the All-Star Game. There's a lot of talk about it, but it's just a lot of fun being here together."

The Sedin twins aren't the only teammates who will become foes for one game because of the new format. Danny Briere and Claude Giroux live together while playing for the League-leading Philadelphia Flyers, but Briere will play for Team Lidstrom and Giroux could be positioned next to him for some faceoffs as a member of Team Staal.

Lidstrom, with the help of assistant captain Patrick Kane, collected two of the three Chicago Blackhawks available in Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews, but Patrick Sharp ended up on Staal's roster.

Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny are the creators of their own victory celebration as centers for the Colorado Avalanche. Being on opposite sides will make it tough for there to be an All-Star rendition of the "Bang Bang" dance in Raleigh.

Duchene and Stastny are two of the 22 players who will participate in an NHL All-Star Game for the first time. At 18 years old, Skinner will be the youngest but others, such as Duchene and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, represent the next wave of stars that could be among the best players in the world for years to come.

Stamkos leads the NHL with 38 goals at the All-Star break and will likely have teammate Martin St. Louis feeding him passes for Team Lidstrom. If ex-Lightning star Brad Richards joins the left side of their line, Stamkos would be skating with two of the premier passers in the League and a smart bet as one of the favorites to claim MVP honors.

Staal owns an MVP trophy from the 2008 All-Star Game in Atlanta, and being the top player from the hometown team won't hurt his chances. There always seems to be a veteran or two who shine in All-Star games, especially because younger players can sometimes defer to their elders.

Lidstrom is the eldest participant, and the 40-year-old defenseman will be playing in his 11th All-Star Game. A player to watch who wouldn't make a short list of favorites to be MVP is San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle. His puck-carrying skills and desire to join the rush are perfect for this event, and he could rack up multiple points.

One of the guys he could be on the ice with is Alex Ovechkin, who is making his fourth All-Star appearance. Ovechkin has tallied at least one goal in each of his first three games. He was Team Staal's second pick, after Carolina goalie Cam Ward, and could find himself playing with a pair of Canucks in Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Ovechkin is always a threat to win the MVP in this event.

"It's going to be fun," Ovechkin said. "We made some good selections."

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