OTTAWA – Now that forward Marian Gaborik and goalie Henrik Lundqvist have playfully settled their NHL All-Star game rivalry, the two can go back to combining their talents and creating headaches for the rest of the league.
With much of the focus this weekend on all-star captains Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara, the unsettled future of the Phoenix Coyotes, and a still cloudy outlook regarding Sidney Crosby's health, Gaborik grabbed the limelight in capping the league's All-Star festivities in Ottawa.
The 11-year veteran earned MVP honors after scoring three times and adding an assist in leading Team Chara to a 12-9 win over Team Alfredsson on Sunday.
Gaborik proved he was the Rangers' top star by beating Lundqvist twice during the first period in delivering payback after the goalie — and Team Alfredsson assistant captain — failed to push for his selection in the All Star player draft on Thursday.
"I was trying to get into his mind over the whole weekend," Gaborik said, referring to a series of back-and-forth comments and tweets the two had exchanged the past few days. "And I think it was a pretty good challenge against him, and worked a little better for me."
No worries, said Lundqvist, who prefers Gaborik as a teammate.
"Obviously, he has a lot of leverage from all the games we've had against each other," Lundqvist said, recalling the time he gave up five goals to Gaborik, when the forward was with the Wild. "Hopefully, he stays in New York for a long time so I don't have to face him in a game."
The one-two punch of Gaborik and Lundqvist has had the Rangers on a roll for much of this season.
Gaborik's team-leading 25 goals and 39 points, and Lundqvist's 1.82 goals-against average — best among NHL goalies with at least 25 starts — has the Rangers (31-12-4) with 66 points, one behind league-leading Detroit.
The final two-plus months of the season resumes with 13 games on Tuesday. And if Sunday's game is any measure, the league isn't bereft of stars in the absence of Crosby, who's played only eight games this season due to a concussion and neck injury, and Alex Ovechkin, who didn't attend after the NHL suspended him for three games for an illegal hit.
Chara delivered by scoring the eventual winner in the midst of a decisive three-goal outburst over a 1:22 span that put his team up 11-8 with 6:34 remaining.
The Vancouver Canucks' Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, continued to prove they're among the game's top play-makers with several nifty passes.
And even in defeat, Alfredsson rewarded the hometown fans with two goals and an assist to further cement his place as Ottawa's favorite athlete, before providing a hint that he might come back for one more season.
With one year left on his contract, Alfredsson has sidestepped questions over whether he might retire after this season.
In an interview broadcast on the arena's scoreboard, the 39-year-old broke into a wide grin in giving his most definitive answer yet by saying, "Fifty percent yes, and my wife's going to have to decide the other 50," as the crowd broke into a cheer.
Even Chara got into the spirit of the exhibition, saying he was rooting for his former Senators teammate to complete his hat trick.
"Alfie's such a classy guy, obviously a big icon in Ottawa and Sweden, as well, and such a great player to represent this team," Chara said. "So of course I was pulling for him."
There was plenty to root for after fans were treated to a wide-open, no-hitting style in a game that featured plenty of nifty passing, numerous odd-man breaks and even a penalty shot awarded to Steven Stamkos, who leads the NHL with 32 goals.
Stamkos, however, was foiled on his freebie — the second in All-Star game history — when he attempted the same spin-around move he used to beat Carey Price in the skills competition on Saturday night. Jimmy Howard didn't bite on Sunday, holding his ground and hugging the post to stop Stamkos' penalty-shot attempt.
"I think I ran out of moves," Stamkos said. "I tried something fancy and hoped it would work. It didn't. But I just tried to have fun with it."
Tim Thomas made 18 saves in the final period, and extended his record by winning his fourth All-Star game.