NASHVILLE -- Usually when Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are on the same sheet of ice as Claude Giroux, they want to exchange punches. On Sunday at Bridgestone Arena, they will exchange pucks.
That’s because this year’s Honda NHL All-Star Game (which will be broadcast at 5 p.m. on NBC Sports Network) is using a new format – a 3-on-3 tournament featuring three 20-minute games.
Each of the 44 NHL players in attendance are divided into four teams by division with each one having 11 players (6 forwards; 3 defensemen; 2 goaltenders). Malkin, Letang, Giroux and the Metropolitan Division will face the Atlantic Division squad in the first semi-final, with the winner advancing to the championship game against the winning team from the showdown between the Central and Pacific Divisions.
Despite their intense rivalries throughout the season and over the years, they’ll put any animosity aside for tonight.
“It’s always fun,” Letang said. “You battle hard against those guys and now you’re sitting next to each other. You’re just here to have fun and give the fans a good time.”
To be honest, Malkin is actually looking forward to the chance to play with guys like Giroux.
“It’s why I’m here,” he told me. “Because I want to play with (Jaromir) Jagr, Claude Giroux, superstars. Maybe we’ll never play together. But now, it’s a good time to play.”
Giroux skated alongside another Penguins player last spring, so he's been through this before.
“I had a chance to play with (Sidney) Crosby at the World Championship,” Giroux told me. “The first three days were kind of weird. You go to the rink and see him, like, ‘are you on my team?’
But Giroux said he quickly got over that feeling.
“He’s a great guy,” Giroux said. “I learned a lot from him. We were able to win (gold). Those kind of guys, when you go to battle you know you’re going to go hard at each other. That’s why we respect each other because we have the same mindset, the same goal.”
And this afternoon, that goal is to give the fans a fantastic performance and return to their respective cities with their share of the $1 million winner-take-all prize.
The full Metropolitan Division All-Star roster is as follows:
Nicklas Backstrom (Washington)
Claude Giroux (Philadelphia)
Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington)
Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh)
Brandon Saad (Columbus)
John Tavares (New York Islanders)
Justin Faulk (Carolina)
Kris Letang (Pittsburgh)
Ryan McDonagh (NY Rangers)
Braden Holtby (Washington)
Cory Schneider (New Jersey)