Sunday, January 12, 2003

Lemieux, Jagr together again as All-Stars

By Ira Podell
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr are teammates again, this time as Eastern Conference All-Stars.

Lemieux, the NHL's leading scorer with 68 points, was picked by fans to be the East's starting center. He will be joined on the forward line by former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Jagr and current teammate Alexei Kovalev.

Nikolai Khabibulin, who helped the surprising Tampa Bay Lightning to the top of Southeast Division, will start in goal for the East. Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (who's injured and probably won't play) and Sandis Ozolinsh of the host Florida Panthers received the most votes among Eastern defensemen in balloting released Saturday.

Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was the top overall vote-getter for the second straight year with 164,568. He will man the Western blue line with Colorado's Rob Blake.

"It's nothing that I really expected," Lidstrom said. "But it's nice to get the recognition, not just in Detroit, but around the league as well."

The West's starting forwards are Dallas' Mike Modano and Bill Guerin, and San Jose's Teemu Selanne. Patrick Roy of Colorado, the goalie with the most career NHL wins, will start in the West's net.

Guerin, Khabibulin, Kovalev and Modano are first-time starters.

"I think there's a little more to it being voted, being recognized by people around the league," Modano said. "That makes it exciting, adds a little bit to it."

The full rosters for the 53rd All-Star game will be announced Thursday night. The game is Feb. 2 in Sunrise, Fla.

It will be the 11th appearance for Lemieux, the Penguins' captain and owner, who received 155,172 votes, best in the East. He and Jagr played together in Pittsburgh for eight seasons, winning Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.

But they haven't been on the same team since Jagr was traded to Washington before last season.

They didn't even line up together in the 2002 All-Star game, because the league was in the final year of the North America against the World format that debuted in 1998 to coincide with the first appearance of NHL players in the Olympics.

Lemieux plays for Canada; Jagr for the Czech Republic.

If Lemieux recovers in time from the injured groin that kept him out of Pittsburgh's past two games, he will have the chance to break a tie with Wayne Gretzky for the most career All-Star goals. Both have 13; Lemieux has played in eight fewer games.

Gretzky's 25 points are two more than Lemieux has. The two Hall of Famers are the only players who have been All-Star MVP three times.

Lemieux has made the team each season since returning from his 31/2-year retirement in 1999.

Jagr, who earned his 11th straight starting assignment, is only second on the Capitals in scoring. He received 122,725 votes.

Kovalev was voted to his second All-Star game on the strength of being the NHL's third-leading scorer, tied with Boston's Joe Thornton with 52 points.

"Before, just being at the All-Star Game was a great feeling. But now, having a chance to be in the starting lineup is a great opportunity," Kovalev said. "It definitely gives you a lift for the future, that you've been recognized as one of the good players."

Ozolinsh, third on the Panthers with 25 points, was voted an All-Star starter for the sixth time in seven appearances. Leetch, who has missed 18 games because of a bruised left ankle, was an All-Star nine times in his previous 15 NHL seasons.

Khabibulin, 18-16-4 with a 2.64 goals-against average, made his fourth All-Star team.

Lidstrom, a seven-time All-Star, has 31 points and a plus-16 rating with the Stanley Cup champions. Blake was elected to his sixth All-Star game and fifth straight.

"It's always an honor to be chosen to the All-Star team by the fans," Blake said. "It's something that never gets old."

Guerin, the 2001 All-Star MVP in his only appearance, has 20 goals and 21 assists in his first season with the Stars. Only Modano has more points (49) for the Stars.

"It's a big deal to me," Guerin said. "I mean, I haven't been to 10 of them. It's an honor."

Dallas handed out campaign buttons in hopes of getting its first players elected. It worked - twice - with Guerin and Modano.

"It's a surprise with the guys they've had through here and with the way the fans are," Guerin said. "But it works out funny sometimes."

Dallas' Marty Turco, among the league leaders in wins and goals-against average, received 33,320 write-in votes.

"There have been years when I deserved to be there and wasn't, so it evens out," Roy said. "I'm sure he'll be there someday."

Roy, on the verge of becoming the first goalie to play 1,000 games, is 13-10-9 this season to extend his wins record to 529. He's headed to his 11th All-Star game.

Selanne will play in his ninth. The MVP of the 1998 edition has 20 goals and 14 assists this season. He had two goals in the World's 8-5 victory last year in Los Angeles.

NHL All-Star starters

Game: Feb. 2 At Sunrise, Fla.

Western Conference

Mike Modano, center

Bill Guerin, winger

Teemu Selanne, winger

Niklas Lidstrom, defense

Rob Blake, defense

Patrick Roy, goaltender

Coach: Marc Crawford

Eastern Conference

Mario Lemieux, center

Alexei Kovalev, winger

Jaromir Jagr, winger

Sandis Ozolinsh, defense

Brian Leetch, defense

Nikolai Khabibulin, goaltender

Coach: Jacques Martin

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