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All-Star Rangers thrilled by the honor

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers


Staal, Stepan Discuss All-Star Honor Watch

Rangers Trio Going to Carolina

By Jim Cerny,

Three well-deserving Rangers found out on Tuesday that they will be heading to Raleigh, N.C., for the 2011 NHL Al- Star Weekend at the end of this month.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was selected to participate in his second All-Star Game, while defenseman Marc Staal was selected to his first. Center Derek Stepan will join his Rangers’ teammates in Raleigh, as he was selected to participate in the Rookie Skills Competition.

The last time the Rangers had more than one player chosen to play in the NHL All-Star Game was in 2004 when Mark Messier and Jaromir Jagr represented the Blueshirts.

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal could end up on the same All-Star team as his older brother, Eric, on Jan. 30, but hopes he'll play against him instead.
“It’ll be nice to have Marc and Hank to hang out with, that’s for sure,” said an excited Stepan prior to Tuesday’s game at Madison Square Garden against the Montreal Canadiens.

Lundqvist, who played in the 2009 NHL All Star Game in Montreal, has appeared in 33 games so far this season for the Rangers, posting an 18-12-3 record, 2.33 goals against average, and .923 save percentage. He currently ranks in the top 10 among all NHL goalies in wins, goals against average, and save percentage, and is tied for the league-lead in shutouts with five.

Of late, Lundqvist has been playing his best hockey of the season. He has not lost a game in regulation since Dec. 18, posting a record of 4-0-2 in that span for the surging Rangers while allowing only 11 goals.

“Of late here he’s been really good,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of Lundqvist. “He’s our backbone, and your goaltender has to be. And we have a good one.”

Staal, who will be joining his brother Eric -- the Carolina Hurricanes captain -- in this year’s All-Star contest, has emerged this season as the Rangers No. 1 all-around defenseman at the age of 23. He has teamed with defense partner Dan Girardi to form the Blueshirts’ go-to shutdown defense pairing on a night-in and night-out basis, while also scoring six goals and producing 17 points offensively.

Should he just continue at the pace he has set, Staal would easily surpass his previous career-highs of eight goals and 27 points established a year ago. In addition, Staal -- who logged more than 33 minutes of ice time in last Friday’s 3-2 shootout victory in Dallas -- has been “an animal”, in the words of Tortorella, averaging a career-high 25:30 worth of ice time this season, while posting a solid plus nine plus/minus rating.

“When you’re feeling good about your game and playing well, it just comes naturally, and I think my confidence has really grown,” said Staal. “I am still learning, still trying to get better. This will be special because it’s in Carolina and my family will be down there. It should make for a fun weekend.”

Asked if he preferred to play with or against his brother Eric in the new All-Star game format, Staal did not hesitate to answer.

“Definitely against,” declared Staal. “I don’t think I could handle having him on my team. He’s too mouthy.”

Stepan, 20, has been one of the league’s top rookies all season long, right from the moment he netted a hat trick in his NHL debut up in Buffalo on Oct. 9. In 43 games, Stepan is tied for third among all NHL rookies with 12 goals and 24 points. He trails Carolina’s Jeff Skinner -- who will also take part in the Rookie Skills Competition -- by only eight points for the league rookie lead.

“It’s an honor and I am really excited,” said Stepan. “It’s been a good first half for me, and this is just something that keeps snowballing -- things keep adding on, in a good way. First I make it to the NHL. Then to have the opportunity to go play in an All-Star Game is something you dream about as a kid.”
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