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All-Star Weekend a hit for NHL

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Marc-Andre Fleury had a great time during All-Star Weekend. That alone shows the power of the three-day event.

Fleury had every reason to mope after Sunday’s All-Star Game. The Pittsburgh goaltender dug puck after puck out of his net during a second period to forget. He allowed seven goals on 16 shots and took the loss for Team Foligno during a record-breaking 17-12 game against Team Toews.

Yet he still walked through the dressing room with a smile on his face.

“Other than getting booed, that was a good weekend,” Fleury said. “It was fun.”

Because of a lockout and the Olympics, this was the first All-Star gala since 2012.

“We are delighted to have All-Star Weekend back in the mix as a major event,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We missed having it. We think getting everyone together to celebrate the game, to celebrate fandom, to celebrate our players is terrific.”

The game, played at less than half speed, was anticlimactic after two days of quality events. Saturday’s Skills Competition created more of a buzz for the crowd, and Friday’s wisecrack-filled fantasy draft to select the teams was the weekend highlight.

“The players seemed to have fun with it,” said Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, who created the fantasy draft while working for the league. “My 12-year-old son loves it. It’s probably his favorite part. This is what we’re doing. We’re providing entertainment for kids. The players have a good time with it, and it’s entertainment. The more the players have fun with it, the more that our fans are entertained.

“The weekend is not an NHL game. It always lacks that intensity, so anytime you can add some entertainment and fun to it … we want to see their personalities.”

Few players had more fun than Nick Foligno. The Columbus forward and brother of Sabres left wing Marcus Foligno did everything he could to show his home fans a good time.

“We know how important it is for them to see a different side of us,” Foligno said. “The season is so busy and so hard to kind of get yourself out there, but at a time like this when you can really open yourself up, I think it’s great for the sport.

“The game of hockey is so fun, and we have a great time playing it. I think that’s really the message we want to get across in this All-Star Game.”

The folks in Columbus completed the weekend by voting the Blue Jackets’ Ryan Johansen as the game’s Most Valuable Player. He had two goals and four points. That may sound like a lot, but not in this exhibition.

Jakub Voracek had three goals and six points. John Tavares scored four times. Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews had five points each. The 29 goals broke the previous record total 26 set in 2001.

Only three of the 35 skaters failed to record a point. One was the Buffalo Sabres’ Zemgus Girgensons, who was blanked along with Anze Kopitar and Phil Kessel. Girgensons, one of 20 first-time All-Stars, skated on a line with Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Vancouver’s Radim Vrbata.

Girgensons had a glorious opportunity to score during the first period. He was the lead man on a three-on-zero break, but he failed to get a shot off.

“It’s unbelievable skill out there,” Girgensons said. “It was just fun seeing all the guys do cool stuff and seeing all those goals. If I was a goalie in this game, I would be … not happy.”

The signature attraction in Nationwide Arena is a Civil War-style cannon that explodes after goals by the home team. The only way it would have fired more was if it were on the front line for the Battle of Antietam.

The 15th goal of the game – with just 28 minutes off the clock – best illustrated the defensive “intensity.” Tavares lost the puck on a breakaway, yet he still had time to collect it, continue the breakaway and score.

“You try to have fun with it,” said Patrick Kane, who had two goals. “That’s all we’re really doing out there is having fun and trying to show our skill at the same time. It was a fun day.”

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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