The Western Conference came through when every shot counted to pull off a come-from-behind 12-11 victory in Sunday night’s 2013 AHL All-Star Skills Competition at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
Entering the seventh and final event, the Eastern Conference was safeguarding an 8-6 lead. With all 18 skaters taking one last hack, every puck in the net would count towards the team’s point tally.
East goaltender Robin Lehner was beat on back-to-back backhanders via Brayden McNabb and Michal Jordan, allowing the West to draw an 8-8 knot in the top of the first. Three of the East’s first six shooters proceeded to replenish the lead at 11-8.
That would be the last of the blunders by Western backstops, as both Petr Mrazek and Justin Peters were perfect on their shifts. Peters stoned Trent Whitfield, the captain of the East and the host Providence Bruins, on the final shot to cement the deal.
Moments earlier, hometown netminder Niklas Svedberg entered his shift with an 11-10 lead to defend. On the West’s penultimate chance to stay in the competition, Mark Arcobello connected.
One-time P-Bruin Martin St. Pierre, now a member of the Rockford IceHogs, then buried the last shot for the West to spawn the visiting conference’s only lead of the night, but a permanent one at that.
In the first of two three-man “heats” in the puck-control relay event, the West’s Kevin Porter beat Nino Niederreiter and handed things over to Brad Hunt. Hunt’s adversary, Derek Meech of the St. John’s IceCaps, pulled his club even as the two reached the finish line at virtually the same moment.
In turn, Tyler Johnson of the Syracuse Crunch took off and easily completed the comeback by beating his Western counterpart Arcobello.
Gustav Nyquist, a rising Red Wing, is 12 years Whitfield’s junior and is described by The Hockey News as “an amazing, elusive and natural skater.” But in the final one-on-one “heat” of the puck-control race, Nyquist tumbled in the last zone, allowing the 35-year-old hometown captain to pull off the upset and raise a 3-1 upper-hand for the East.
NESN announcer Tom Caron promptly underscored Jason Zucker’s new fastest skater record of 13.550 seconds around the pond to the live audience and the television audience. Zucker revised the record in the second inning of the three-round fastest skater event, then watched Chris Summers of the Portland Pirates break it in the bottom half.
Summers finished his lap in 13.324 seconds, good for the best individual performance and a factor in the East posting the best three-man average. That gave them a two-point sweep and augmented their lead to 5-1 through two events.
The rapid fire event, with two shooters apiece to a goalie going into rod hockey mode, unfolded in a way that had the East goalies assuming the roles of starter, reliever and closer. Lehner was nearly perfect at the start, getting credit for nine saves (although one was a goalpost). The West never recovered after that, as the East claimed the win, 23 saves to 19.
Brayden McNabb set the standard as the leadoff man in the hardest shot competition with slappers clocking in at 99.0 and 101.8 miles per hour.
The latter stood as the winner of an individual point, although the East claimed the best team average after Texas Stars blueliner Jamie Oleksiak hit a 26.8 mile-per-hour shot high and wide. Because both of his shots missed, he was scored a full Blutarsky at 0.0.
Although the Western Conference claimed the two points in the shooting accuracy event, hometown representative Jamie Tardif was the only one of eight participants to utterly break and collapse the four targets at the each corner of the net.
Abbotsford Heat netminder Barry Brust made up for a shaky performance in the rapid fire when he stopped all three shots during the three-on-none pass and score event. Peters later stopped two Tardif stabs with his trapper to keep the East at bay.
With that, the Western Conference earned two points and cut the deficit to 8-6 by virtue of collecting two goals, while the East added one in the penultimate event.
Al Daniel is an NHL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. This story was filed on site at the Dunkin Donuts Center.