The first puck hadn't even dropped in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover and the atmosphere had already matched the hype. These tailgating Caniacs came to see their stars in action, all on the same ice in a true celebration of their favorite league, and they were not disappointed.
It was star-studded. It was loud. It was fabulous.
And the game was pretty good, too. It was in doubt until the final seconds.
Team Lidstrom 11, Team Staal 10. And, it was Dallas forward Loui Eriksson
's empty-net goal that proved to be the game-winner.
Eriksson (2 goals, 2 assists) scored into the open net with 1:11 to play, but Eric Staal potted his second goal of the third period to cut his squad's deficit to one goal with 33.6 seconds left. Team Staal had a frantic finish in front of Boston goalie Tim Thomas, but couldn't get the one more it needed to send the game into overtime.
Team Lidstrom alternate captain Martin St. Louis gave his squad a 10-8 lead with 6:07 to play, but Rick Nash sliced the deficit to one goal a minute and a half later. When it came down to less than 90 seconds left, Team Staal coach Joel Quenneville brought Henrik Lundqvist to the bench for the extra attacker, but it turned out to burn the home team.
Staal and his defenseman, Penguins blueliner Kris Letang, scored in the first nine minutes of the third period to give Team Staal an 8-7 lead.
Prior to Letang's goal, Avalanche center Matt Duchene had a chance to give the lead back to Team Lidstrom with the first penalty shot in the history of the NHL All-Star Game. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist showed why goalies always have the advantage in those situations by stopping Duchene with his left skate.
Duchene got the chance for the penalty shot because Alex Ovechkin comically slid his stick on the ice to breakup the Colorado kid's initial breakaway, giving the officials no choice but to point to the center faceoff dot. Ovechkin clearly released his stick on purpose and he was laughing when he went over to the wall to pick it up.
However, Danny Briere and Jonathan Toews scored back-to-back goals to give Team Lidstrom a 9-8 lead with 10:45 to play. Toews also had two assists.
Team Lidstrom was led by their captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, and defenseman Shea Weber. The defense pair was a combined plus-13 with 5 assists. Weber had 4 of those assists and was a plus-6. Lidstrom was a plus-7 with 1 assist.
Briere and Anze Kopitar had 2 goals for Team Lidstrom while Eriksson 2 goals and 2 assists. Martin Havlat had 3 assists.
Patrick Sharp earned the MVP honor with a goal and 2 assists for Team Staal.
Team Lidstrom rallied from a four-goal deficit in the first period and a two-goal deficit in the second period to take a 7-6 lead into the final 20 minutes. But, that was erased just 3:49 into the third period when hometown captain Staal scored through Tim Thomas' five-hole on a breakaway to make it 7-7.
Team Staal took advantage of the home ice by scoring four times within the first five minutes and 41 seconds of the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover. It could have even been worse, but captain and hometown favorite Staal was stoned on a breakaway by Marc-Andre Fleury just 30 seconds in.
However, Team Lidstrom scored four unanswered goals in the final 10 minutes of the first period to send the teams into the dressing rooms all locked up at 4-4 after 20 minutes.
Sharp and Letang staked Staal's squad a 6-4 lead just over six minutes into the second period, but once again Team Lidstrom showed its resiliency by scoring three straight times on Montreal goalie Carey Price to go into the third period up 7-6.
Kopitar started Team Lidstrom's second comeback of the night with his second goal of the night 10:08 into the second period. He converted on a rare 2-on-0 with Eriksson.
Steven Stamkos, the leading scorer in the NHL this season with 38 goals, made it 6-6 at 14:11 with his first goal of the game. St. Louis, as per usual in Lightning land, provided the primary assist.
Team Lidstrom grabbed its first lead of the game 81 seconds later when Briere cashed in to make it 7-6. Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller stole the rest of the period with three sensational saves.
Skinner nearly brought the house down with about 3:30 to play, but Hiller stoned him on a breakaway with a left toe save. Hiller also robbed Rick Nash on a breakaway with 2:15 to play and snared Ryan Kesler's backhanded shot out of the air about 30 seconds later to preserve the lead for Team Lidstrom.
Ovechkin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Elias and Claude Giroux beat Fleury with varying shots to stake Team Staal to a 4-0 lead just 5:41 into the game. Kopitar, Dustin Byfuglien, Eriksson and Duchene scored against hometown goalie Cam Ward in the final 10 minutes of the period to lead the rally for Team Lidstrom before the first intermission.
Duchene capped the scoring with a pretty breakaway goal, using a leg kick to freeze Ward before he went to his backhand to make it 4-4 with 3:30 to play before the 3 Doors Down concert during the first intermission.Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl