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A look at NHL All-Star weekend

Bradley Piros, Courier Staff

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TAMPA BAY, FLA. – The NHL All-Star weekend is one of the key highlights of the season and this year Tampa Bay, Florida, home of the Lightning, had the honor of hosting the event.

This is my favorite All-Star game out of the major U.S. sports leagues by far, the only one coming close being the NBA All-Star game. To me, the NFL Pro-Bowl is a joke, and I’m just not really a baseball fan. I watched the MLB All-Star game back when it meant home field advantage for the winning side, but now that’s kind of pointless too.

I know what you’re thinking, “The NHL All-Star game is just as pointless,” and you’re right, but let me tell you why it’s still my favorite.

If you didn’t know, the NHL All-Star game recently had a change of formatting. It used to be just two teams playing regular 5-on-5 hockey, the best of the Eastern Conference and the best of the West. There’s been a couple of exceptions since then though, like in 1979 and 1987 when only a single team of the NHL’s best players went up against the Soviet Union National Team; or in 1998 and 2002 when the teams were split up by the players’ nationality. We’ve even seen the cancellation of the game back in the 2004-2005 season, as well as the 2012-2013 season when the All-Star games were cancelled all together due to the lockout and shortened season. The current format is my favorite; it’s four mini-teams from their respected divisions, Central, Pacific, Atlantic and Metropolitan, going up against one another in a 3-on-3 tournament.

Before I start, I’ve said it before and I’ll always bring it up, I’m a die-hard St. Louis Blues fan, so I was rooting for the Central division; except Patrick Kane. All jokes aside, it was good to see Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and his fellow teammate, first time all-star, Brayden Schenn get voted in to play the game.  I was a little bummed that I didn’t get to see my favorite player Vladimir Tarasenko, but I’ll take what I can get. In the end it was up to America to vote in the players, and I think we did a pretty good job. Now, I’ll always believe that the Central Division is the toughest out of the four, especially right now. I’ll also be the first person to admit I’m wrong. So when the Central Division went out hard and fast, I had a lot of people telling me, “I told you so.”

The Central Division team, including the likes of Nashville’s P.K. Subban and Pekka Rinne, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, and Dallas’ Tyler Seguin, kicked things off against the Pacific Division, my personal least favorite to win. They had stars like the L.A. King’s Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, San Jose’s Brent Burns, and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid to name a few; and they proceeded to take it to the central division, winning 5-2 to put them in the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game finals.

Following this game was the favorite, the Atlantic Division, with four hometown Tampa Bay all-stars such as: Nikita Kucherov, captain Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Andei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning was the only team to produce four all-stars this year. They led against the star-studded Metropolitan division including: the Pittsburgh Penguin’s Kris Letang, and Sidney Crosby, as well as Washington’s Braden Holtby, and Alex Ovechkin. The Atlantic division was the outright winner of this game 7-4, including a hometown Kucherov hat-trick, meaning it was going to be East-coast vs. West-coast in the finals.

The Pacific Division all-stars beat the Atlantic 5-2 in the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game and cash in on the $1 million grand prize. The game started off with a four goal first period, as the Pacific struck first. Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell scored the go-ahead rebound goal 59 seconds into the game to take the lead. They then doubled that lead when Vancouver Canuck Brock Boeser took a pass from Gaudreau and finished into the top right corner. Detroit’s Mike Green cut the lead in half to make it 2-1, but Drew Doughty made it 3-1 to regain the two-goal lead. Headed into the second period, Gaudreau made it 4-1, followed by Green to make it 4-2. The last goal of the game came from Rakell to make it 5-2.

Sadly, the hometown Lightning players couldn’t get the win in front of the Tampa Bay crowd. It was never about winning or the money, it was about the greatest hockey players in the world coming together to make something special happen.

When you can see McDavid, Crosby, Ovechkin, and Kucherov, the four hottest hockey players in the world, all playing at the same time, you know you are witnessing greatness.

So until next year, it’s back to business, as all great things must come to an end. The NHL All-Star Break is now over and all the teams look to get back onto the ice stronger and more refreshed from the break, to make that final push for the playoffs.

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A look at NHL All-Star weekend