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Team Chara goaltender Tim Thomas makes a glove save as they face Team Alfredsson during third period of the NHL All-Star game Sunday, January 29, 2012 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
Team Chara goaltender Tim Thomas makes a glove save as they face Team Alfredsson during third period of the NHL All-Star game Sunday, January 29, 2012 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Roy MacGregor

A java wakeup call for NHL and all-star game Add to ...

They say it in hockey; they say it in advertising.

Timing is everything.

How appropriate, then, that Tim Hortons – main sponsor of the 2012 NHL all-star game – would launch its brand-new mega-ultra-super large 24-ounce cup of coffee in time for the opening faceoff.

A double-double-double, please: That means two of them just to get you through a single period.

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Only the foolish, or the hopelessly naive, expect that the annual all-star game should be an actual game. There hasn’t been a stiff check thrown in all-star competition since the 1700s. Only goalies bother showering once the buzzer goes.

But so what? It’s not a game but a party, and as the 2012 version closed out Sunday afternoon in Ottawa, the only possible complaint could be that the miserable weather last Friday made skating on the Rideau Canal impossible – but only for a day.

As for the actual game, it has long been accepted that the scores will more resemble an NFL game than an NHL game, and this time was no different as Team Chara defeated the hometown favourite Team Alfredsson 12-9.

It took a surprising 4 minutes 34 seconds before the first one was scored, however, and that by Marian Gaborik – the eventual game most valuable player – on a pretty passing play with Pavel Datsyuk. After Gaborik scored on his New York Rangers teammate Henrik Lundqvist he spun to his knee at the blueline, using his hockey stick as a gun on Lundqvist, who had previously suggested he knew Gaborik’s move so well from practices that he wasn’t concerned about stopping the sharpshooter.

Gaborik later said he had decided before the game to do it, but only if he scored on his friend and teammate, with whom he had been waging a friendly chirping war on Twitter throughout the week.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best, goalie in the league,” Gaborik said of Lundqvist.

Team Chara – named after Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara – went up 2-0 when NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins flipped the puck like a sand wedge shot up over Lundqvist’s glove hand. Gaborik then made it 3-0 when he tapped in a nice cross-crease pass from Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa.

Team Alfredsson – named after the Ottawa Senators’ long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson – managed to put a small spoonful of drama back into the first period by coming back with three goals of their own: Senators forward Jason Spezza on a tip-in, Vancouver Canucks centre Henrik Sedin on a tap-in and New York Islanders star John Tavares on a rebound.

That period also featured only the second-ever penalty shot in an all-star game when one was awarded – rather generously – to Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos. The NHL leading goal scorer with 32 and the skills shootout champion only the night before, Stamkos could not score to put Team Alfredsson into the lead.

Team Chara goaltender Carey Price said he felt “like a lamb being led to the slaughter” as the Montreal Canadien dressed for the second period. He wasn’t far off.

Team Alfredsson coach John Tortorella tweaked his lineup slightly and moved Alfredsson onto the same line as the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. It worked wonders. After Team Chara went ahead 5-3 on goals by Gaborik – his third of the game – and Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Swedish Line went to work. Following a goal by Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville, Alfredsson tied the game at five when he split the Team Chara defence – a term used loosely – and scored on Price. Moments later, he scored again on a pretty three-way passing play to give his team the lead, only to have Team Chara tie matters once again at 6-6 when Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks was allowed to walk out from back of the net and slip a puck under the outstretched pad of Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.

The third period belonged to Team Chara, with Phil Kessel of the Leafs putting them in front. Another Senator, Milan Michalek, scored for the Alfredsson side, then Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla scored for Team Chara. One last time Team Alfredsson tied the game on a goal by young Philadelphia Flyers star Claude Giroux.

Chara’s squad moved ahead to stay when Hossa scored on a screen, then Chara himself, then Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks scored – but this time not using a mini-stick, as he done the night before during the lighthearted skills event.

Daniel Sedin scored on a lovely passing play between his brother Henrik and a very impressed Alfredsson.

“They have some language that’s almost alien,” Alfredsson said of playing with the twins. “You just have to get the frequency – but nobody’s figured it out.”

In fact, Alfredsson had figured it out quite well, barely missing his hat trick when he rang a hard shot off the post in the third period.

The last goal belonged to Lupul, who said he found playing in an all-star game “almost surreal” after thinking injuries might end his career early only a year earlier.

For Alfredsson, who received a thunderous standing ovation following his first goal, it was like “a whole ego weekend,” with the capital city in a party mood and the Senators doing far better in the regular season than anyone, players included, believed possible.

He did not win the car – that went to Gaborik – and his team did not win, but he didn’t need to win anything he doesn’t already have.

“Alfie is a special person in Ottawa,” said Hossa, the Chicago star who spent his first several seasons with the Senators. “It was really nice when he scored a goal.”

This, from an opponent.

Just as might happen in a meaningless game of shinny.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 
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