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Western Players Both Proud and Disappointed

01/27/2009 12:37 AM

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MONTREAL -- Professional athletes don't like to lose. Ever.

So, the Western Conference All-Stars were not in the least bit happy to be on the losing end of a memorable NHL All-Star Game on Sunday evening at the Bell Centre. But the disappointment faded quickly, replaced by the knowledge that memories were made on that night that will likely never fade.

"It's a great experience, something you will remember for all-time," said Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom.

Let's put it this way -- it will likely be the only time in Backstrom's career that he can smile after allowing four goals in a period, even if he did face 22 shots in those 20 minutes.

"You go out there and you don't want to lose," Backstrom said after his team dropped a memorable 12-11 decision in Sunday's game, which was decided by a shootout -- only the second in All-Star Game history. "You try your best, but you can definitely sleep at night."

Backstrom will likely fall into an uninterrupted sleep after the workout the Eastern Conference shooters gave him in the second period of the game. Backstrom entered the game with the Western Conference losing, 4-2. He left with the game tied at 8-all and the stage perfectly set for an unforgettable conclusion.

"For me, it was a great experience," Backstrom said. "It's just a really special experience."

A good portion of the Western Conference roster was enjoying the All-Star experience for the first time. A whopping eight players on the 21-man Western Conference roster were first-time All-Stars.

They all certainly picked a fine game for their debuts, becoming part of a contest that will go down as one of the best in All-Star Game history, especially after Montreal's Alex Kovalev sent the Bell Centre crowd into rapture by scoring the deciding goal in the shootout and earning Honda/NHL MVP honors after scoring two goals and an assist in regulation to go with his game-deciding heroics.

As Nashville defenseman Shea Weber sat in the cramped visitor's dressing room, he struggled to put into perspective the life experiences he had accumulated in the past 24 hours.

Saturday night, he pushed Zdeno Chara to the limit in the Cisco Hardest Shot. Chara, the favorite in the competition, needed to set a new record on his final shot to finally put Weber in his rear-view mirror.

Sunday, Weber played 14 minutes in the actual All-Star Game, sharing the ice with some of the game's greatest talents.

Asked for a dominant memory, Weber struggled.

"I don't know right now," he said. "Obviously, one of them is to be able to play with (Anaheim defenseman) Scott Niedermayer. He's a Hall of Famer and to play with him is a great honor."

Los Angeles forward Dustin Brown sat a few stalls away, looking at his All-Star jersey one last time before packing it away for safe keeping. He, too, struggled to encapsulate what stood out most from his All-Star debut.

"To be honest, I haven't really digested it yet," he said. "To be able to play on a line with (Phoenix forward) Shane Doan and Mike Modano was a thrill, especially as an American-born player."

Modano, the veteran Dallas Stars center, is considered by most to be one of the biggest names in the history of American hockey.

Jonathan Toews is already the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks at 20 years old, but this was still his first All-Star Game. So, for him, this weekend was not only about having some fun, it was about measuring himself against the most skilled players the League has to offer.

As he busily packed his equipment bag, he quietly acknowledged that he passed the test, pointing to the third-period goal he scored to give the Western Conference a 10-9 lead that stood for more than 10 minutes.

"I was just happy that I could chip in with that goal and prove that I could hang with these guys," he said. "Win or lose, it was a great experience."

Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas was a late injury replacement for Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom. Just to be in the All-Star Game was a huge reward for him, so there was little to complain about.

Yet, he did admit to wishing he would have scored in the game, despite only having two goals in the regular season. It's the All-Star Game after all, and a man can dream, can't he?

And, it's not as if Robidas didn't have his chances. He had one of the game's first shots, a wrister from the circle that was gobbled up by Montreal goalie Carey Price. Later in the game, he hit a post as he logged a little more than 21 minutes of ice time.

"It was close," said Robidas, who hails from nearby Sherbrooke, Quebec. "I just missed on that first one and hit the post on the other one. But it did not happen.

"Still, it was pretty exciting. I had a lot of fun out there and the fans made it a great show. The fans in Montreal are No. 1 in the League and they showed it again tonight. It's a night I will never forget, that's for sure."

It seems Robidas will have a lot of company on Memory Lane when it comes to the 2009 All-Star Game.