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Rangers shine in SuperSkills competition

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist showed his typical form in the shootout, stopping 12 of 16 shots from the NHL"s best in the Elimination Shootout part of the SuperSkills night.

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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

Henrik Lundqvist was sensational in stopping 12 of 16 shots in the Elimination Shootout, and Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky both put forth solid efforts in the YoungStars Game, as the Rangers were well represented during the SuperSkills portion of the NHL All-Star Weekend on Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

After sitting for nearly two hours while other events took place during the Superskills competition, Lundqvist yet again proved why he is one of the league’s elite goaltenders with his performance in the Elimination Shootout. The contest featured every NHL All Star taking part in a shootout against four goaltenders -- Lundqvist, Tim Thomas of the Bruins, Jean-Sebastian Giguere of the Ducks, and Nicklas Backstrom of the Wild.

In the opening round, Lundqvist stopped seven of the nine shots he faced. He surrendered a goal to Shane Doan of the Coyotes -- the eventual winner of the contest -- on the very first shot, but followed by eliminating Dustin Brown of the Kings, Stephane Robidas of the Stars, and Andrei Markov of the Canadiens.

After Boston’s Zdeno Chara was able to beat him through the five-hole, Lundqvist closed out the opening round by dispatching Keith Tkachuk of the Blues, Jeff Carter of the Flyers, Rick Nash of the Blue Jackets, and Vincent Lecavalier of the Lightning.

Lundqvist was beaten twice in three attempts in the second round. Scott Niedermeyer of the Ducks snapped a forehand shot past Lundqvist to the stick side, and San Jose’s Patrick Marleau did the same. Lundqvist rebounded by positioning himself perfectly to eliminate Dallas’ Mike Modano.

Appearing in his first NHL All-Star Weekend, Lundqvist only got better as the pressure built. He was not beaten again throughout the final two rounds, denying Niedermeyer and his teammate Ryan Getzlaf in Round Three, and former Rangers center Marc Savard twice in Round 4. Lundqvist’s final poke-check save on Savard handed the championship to Doan, who had scored moments earlier on Giguere.

Staal and Dubinsky were both participating in the YoungStars match for the second straight season. Last year in Atlanta, Staal recorded a goal and an assist in the 3-on-3 contest, while Dubinsky snagged MVP honors by scoring a pair of goals and adding an assist for a three-point performance.

Saturday night the two Rangers both played for a team made up of top-notch NHL Sophomores against a squad of talented NHL Rookies. The YoungStars game consisted of three six-minute periods and, as expected, offense ruled the day.

Despite a pair of goals by Staal, the Sophomores dropped a 9-5 decision to the Rookies, who were led by game MVP Blake Wheeler of the Boston Bruins. Wheeler earned top player honors by scoring three goals against Sophomore goaltender Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.

The Sophomores fell behind 4-1 after one period of play, but Staal gave his team some life with a solid check on James Neal of the Dallas Stars that caused a turnover at the Rookies’ blueline early in the second. In a fun contest that featured minimal defense and little-to-no physical contact, Staal’s check drew a big roar from the Bell Centre crowd.

Moments after his surprise hit on Neal, Staal converted a perfect centering pass from Edmonton’s Andrew Cogliano for his first goal of the evening, cutting the Sophomores’ deficit to 4-2.

Staal scored his second goal of the contest with just 4.2 seconds remaining in the second period. Charging hard to the net, Staal banged the rebound of a Cogliano shot past Nashville Predators’ goalie Pekka Rinne to bring the Sophomores within 6-4.

Brandon Dubinsky and the Sophomore team fell to the rookies 9-5 on Saturday in the final YoungStars appearance for both Dubinsky and his Rangers teammate Marc Staal, who scored a pair of goals.
Dubinsky, though, did not have nearly the good fortune he had in last year’s YoungStars game, and Rinne was the main reason why. Rinne made several outstanding saves to keep Dubinsky off the scoresheet.

Early in the second period, Dubinsky had an excellent scoring chance down low, but Rinne made a strong pad stop. Later on in the period, Dubinsky broke in, made several dekes, and tried to flip a bouncing puck past Rinne. The rookie goaltender, however, kicked out his right pad and made another big save.

Midway through the third period, Dubinsky had his best scoring chance of the game. Collecting the puck at center ice, Dubinsky skated away on a 2-on-1 break with Staal. Dubinsky opted to snap a shot from right wing, as opposed to pass the puck to his Rangers’ teammate, but yet again Rinne positioned himself perfectly to make the save.

There were four other contests that did not include participation by any of the Rangers’ All Star representatives. In the Fastest Skater contest, Cogliano edged Carter for the victory. Skating last, Cogliano whipped around the rink in 14.31 seconds, which was slightly better than the 14.43 seconds it took Carter on his lap.

One of the true highlights of the Superskills competition took place in the Breakaway Challenge. Shooters were allowed as many breakaways against a non-NHL goalie in a span of one-minute, with the winner selected for his artistry and creativity by the fans.

Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin earned 42.8 percent of the fan vote to win the contest, easily outdistancing former Ranger Alex Kovalev of the Canadiens, who garnered 19.7 percent of the vote to finish second. Ever the showman, Ovechkin stopped before his final shot, accepted a floppy hat with a flag of Canada pinned to it along with a pair of oversized sunglasses from Penguins’ star Evgeni Malkin, and then donned his new garb before attempting his final shot. Clearly Ovechkin won over the fans with his sense of humor as much as his on-ice skills.

Malkin earned some hardware, as well, defeating Dany Heatley of the Senators in the Accuracy Challenge. After both snipers nailed each of the four targets in a perfect four attempts to advance to a tiebreaker, Malkin won the event by hitting three targets in four attempts, while Heatley went two-for-four.

In the Hardest Shot competition, Chara won the event for the third consecutive year, but it wasn’t an easy victory. The last shooter in the contest, Chara did not pass the first-place speed of 103.4 MPH posted by Nashville’s Shea Weber until his second, and final, shot. But Chara not only won the competition, he established a new record with an incredible 105.4 MPH shot.

The NHL All-Star Game between the Eastern Conference All Stars and the Western Conference All Stars will take place Sunday evening at the Bell Centre. The game will be televised nationally in the U.S. on Versus.
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