SPOTLIGHT: ALL-STARS

Bruce BerletBY: Bruce Berlet

Connecticut Whale personnel and fans knew rookie left wing Carl Hagelin was plenty fast from the time he played his first pro-game in the playoffs last April.

Hagelin continued to blaze an impressive trail in his first 17 games this season after being among the Rangers’ final cuts, getting seven goals and six assists to earn a call-up on Nov. 24. Hagelin, who co-captained the University of Michigan to the NCAA championship game a year ago, also showed well almost from the outset in the NHL, getting seven goals and seven assists in his first 16 games.

Hagelin now has eight goals and eight assists and is plus-13 in 29 games and put another impressive notch on his belt in the NHL Fastest Skater competition Saturday night in Ottawa, beating rookie Colin Greening of the hometown Senators to win the first All-Star skills event and lead Team (Daniel) Alfredsson to a 21-12 victory over Team (Zdeno) Chara.

Hagelin, who replaced injured New Jersey Devils forward Adam Henrique (groin) on the Young Stars roster, became the second straight rookie to win the event after New York Islanders wing Michael Grabner won last year. Hagelin also was the first Ranger to win the event since future Hall of Famer Mike Gartner in 1993.

But Hagelin said he might not have been the fastest Ranger at the All-Star festivities. When asked how he would take winning the fastest skater title, Hagelin said, “Not too seriously. There are guys out there faster than me. It depends, too, on how the race is laid out. I would pick Gabby (Rangers right wing Marian Gaborik) before me. Gabby said, ‘Good job.’ He said we’ll probably have a race next week.”

But the most impressive showing of the skills competition was Chara shattering his own record in the hardest shot event with a blistering effort of 108.8 mph. The Boston Bruins’ 6-foot-9 defenseman set the record last year at 105.9 mph, and runner-up Shea Weber’s 106 mph shot beat that mark, but it wasn’t good enough to beat the captain of Team Chara.

“Sometimes you don’t look exactly at the numbers,” Chara said after winning the event for the fifth straight time. “Sometimes you just want to win. Obviously (Weber’s) a great player in this league, and he has a really hard shot. We’ve been in the (hardest shot) finals together for the past few years. Really, I don’t go out there and try to get motivated that much. You just try to go out and do your best.”

Chara was touched by the response of the hometown crowd, as he spent four seasons with the Senators before signing with Boston in the summer of 2006.

“The standing ovation was very much appreciated,” said Chara, a key in the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup last spring. “And to get the record in Ottawa where I played so much time and had great years was very nice. Could I top 110 mph? We’ll see. It’s always my motto: I want to be better every season.”

Gaborik couldn’t have been much better Sunday as he scored three goals in Team Chara’s 12-9 victory in the All-Star Game, with the first two goals coming against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and fulfilling some Twitter trash talking with his teammate. In the days leading up to game, Gaborik said he wanted to score on Lundqvist, and he did just that only 4:34 into the game, getting the game’s first goal off a 2-on-1 rush with Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings.

After the goal, Gaborik took a page out of the book of Rangers teammate and former Hartford Wolf Pack center Artem Anisimov, pointing his stick back at Lundqvist and firing it like a rifle.

“I moved to do an ‘Artie’ but I don’t know if he (Lundqvist) is too happy about it,” Gaborik said with a smile.

Anisimov’s celebration in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning this season led to an on-ice brawl. Sunday, the playful celebration drew only laughs.

Gaborik continued his dominance of Lundqvist when he added his second goal at 10:09 for a 3-0 lead. Gaborik and Lundqvist had a light-hearted exchange on Twitter heading into the skills competition. Lundqvist, whose Twitter handle is @HLundqvist30, started the trash talk Friday when he tweeted, “Alright @MGaborik10, having a lot of pasta and going to bed early tonight. Watch out for the 2 pad stack tomorrow.”

Seven minutes later, Gaborik responded: “@HLundqvist30: Want me to tuck you in?:)Watch out for the speed and the five hole shot.”

Nothing much happened in the skills competition, but Gaborik backed up his talk Sunday. And it wasn’t the first time Gaborik has gotten the best of Lundqvist. While with the Minnesota Wild in 2007, Gaborik scored five goals in a game against Lundqvist and now has eight goals in his last 18 shots against one of the world’s top goalies.

After the period, Lundqvist tweeted “U gotta be kidding me …” He confirmed the line of thought a few minutes later with another tweet: “Need to sign @MGaborik10 for life in NY, can’t stop this guy …”

Gaborik completed his hat trick in the second period when he scored on Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, a Hamden native and former standout at Hamden High, Avon Old Farms and UMass. Gaborik won the MVP after he also assisted on the winning goal by Chara, who was plus-7 with defensive partner Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers.

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, the only All-Star not drafted, assisted on Team Alfredsson’s first goal by Ottawa’s Jason Spezza.

Alfredsson’s two goals drew the loudest applause, and Bruins goalie Tim Thomas denied the Senators’ captain a hat trick when he reached out his stick and poke-checked the puck away as Alfredsson was a move away from having an empty net. Alfredsson later hit the post, helping Thomas notch his fourth straight All-Star victory.

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