All Star festivities over: NHL enters stretch run

With the NHL All Star weekend over the league now enters the stretch run with most teams having a busy time of it until the end of the regular season. With each club having a Christmas break, a five-day bye and another break for the All-Star Game it's no wonder the NHL campaign is a marathon affair. The playoff drive starts in earnest now with the majority of teams still having a chance at making the postseason. However, a few of the stragglers such as the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes will need a minor miracle to play more than 82 games this year.

The 31 teams all have between 31 and 35 games remaining in the 82-game schedule with 10 weeks to go before the postseason. Those who have playoff ambitions may attempt to fine-tune their rosters between now and trade deadline day which falls upon us on February 26th. Just before things start to heat up later this week, we'll take a look back at the All-Star weekend at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Florida and review the games and skills competitions in case you happened to miss them.

As for the games themselves, which continue to use the three-on-three format, the Pacific Division won the $1 million prize by downing the Atlantic Division 5-2. It was the second time the Pacific has won the All-Star event since the format was changed three years ago and the third time they've reached the final. Rickard Rakell of the Anaheim Ducks was the scoring hero in the final game with a pair of goals to his name, which were the first and last of the contest. Other Pacific goals came courtesy of Vancouver Canucks' rookie right winger Brock Boeser, Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau and Los Angeles Kings blueliner Drew Doughty.

Boeser was named the Most Valuable Player of the event with a pair of goals and an assist in the Pacific's two victories as he helped his team crush the Central Division 5-2 in their opener. The 20-year-old scored the game winner against the Central and then added a goal and assists in the final. Boeser was awarded a 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid for being named MVP. Mario Lemieux was the only other rookie to take home the MVP award in the game's history as he achieved the feat back in the 1984/85 event. The Atlantic Division reached the final by downing the Metropolitan Division 7-4 in their first game. Tampa Bay winger Nikita Kucherov was the scoring hero of that outing with a hat trick under his belt.

The All-Star Game took place on Sunday afternoon, while the players put their skills to the test in a series of six competitions the night before. The fastest skater award went to Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers for the second year in a row with a time of 13.454 seconds for a lap around the rink. He was followed by Brayden Point of Tampa Bay at 13.579 seconds with Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres placing third out of the eight participants at 13.828 seconds. The passing challenge was won by
defenceman Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues at 46.610 seconds. Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild was second at 54.679 seconds and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins was third at 1:00.015.

The save streak competition gave the goalies a chance to shine and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights took first place with 14 straight saves. Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators had a streak of 13 straight stops to place second while Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers came third with a five-save streak. When it came to the puck control relay, Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames won it with a time of 24.650 seconds. John Tavares of the New York Islanders was second at 28.242 seconds with Connor McDavid coming in third at 29.220 seconds.

The hardest shot contest was won by Russian sniper and future Hall of Famer Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals at 101.3 miles-per-hour. He also had the second-hardest shot in the event at 98.8 mph while defenceman P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators had the third-hardest shot at 98.7 mph. The accuracy shooting competition was topped by rookie Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks with a time of 11.136 seconds. Veteran forward Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils was second best at 11.626 seconds and he was followed by another veteran forward as James Neal of the Vegas Golden Knights posted a time of 14.262 seconds.