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Skills and thrills for Karlsson, NHL all-stars

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson is introduced to the fans at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., prior to the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition that kicked off all-star weekend (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images).
Erik Karlsson had a feeling it would be "a really good show" for one and all.

The Ottawa Senators defenceman and the rest of the National Hockey League all-stars provided just that on Saturday night, as the Honda SuperSkills competition launched the weekend festivities at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. The always-entertaining start to all-star weekend saw Team Staal — which included Karlsson — top Team Lidstrom 33-22.

A full house in the arena and a television audience on both sides of the border watched the two teams, augmented by a handful of league rookies, went through a half-dozen skills competitions. They ran the gamut from hardest shot, fastest skater and accuracy shooting to a final shootout that involved all the players on each team.

Only Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks and Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning lasted through to the third round, with the former eventually taking the win. Karlsson, meanwhile, beat Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas with a top-shelf backhander on his opening attempt before being foiled by Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks on the second.

"I just wanted to try something," the 20-year-old Karlsson, who is making his all-star game debut, said of his opening shootout attempt. "I've never really done that one before ... I almost did what I wanted to do but at least I scored, so that was pretty nice. The second one, I choked pretty bad."

Karlsson was grinning as he spoke and that pretty much summed up the light-hearted tone of the evening, during which players wore their regular tam jerseys — and no helmets, giving the fans a more personal glimpse of their heroes.

"It was a fun thing to do," said Karlsson, who is enjoying the camraderie of Team Staal. "It's been good. Everybody is having a good time and we share laughs all the time. People say funny stuff ... it's a good vibe in here and everybody is really enjoying themselves.

"The atmosphere in the rink was grea and the fans were really good. The guys did the best they could to entertain them."

Now the big show — the 58th annual NHL All-Star Game — is on tap Sunday (4 p.m., CBC).

"You've been on the ice a bit now and held the puck a little bit," Karlsson said with an eye toward Sunday's matchup. "Tomorrow will be the main event and you're looking forward to that a lot."

Karlsson and his Ottawa teammates will put on their own version of this competition on Feb. 21, when the annual Sens Skills presented by Metro event is held at Scotiabank Place.

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