Western Conf. wins in shootout

Alan Robinson and Alan Robinson

SUNRISE, Fla. — In a trying, troubling season, the NHL almost got the All-Star game wrong, too. Even if Dany Heatley didn’t. Heatley, a not-so-well known star from a last-place team playing in his first All-Star game, joined hockey greats such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux by scoring a record-tying four goals Sunday, though he couldn’t prevent the Western Conference from beating the East in the first All-Star shootout in NHL history.

Just like baseball’s All-Star tie fiasco of last summer, there was considerable confusion at the finish. At least the NHL had a winner — a big relief for a league embarrassed twice this season by teams going bankrupt.

After a 5-all regulation tie set up the fourth overtime All-Star game, the West won 6-5 when Markus Naslund, Bill Guerin and Paul Kariya scored in the shootout against goalie Patrick Lalime. Only Heatley — of course — scored for the East against goalie Marty Turco.

Though Heatley put the puck in the net five times, the NHL announced several minutes after the game he would be credited only with four goals — the fifth player to do so.

Most of the fans left thinking the score was 8-6, as the West outscored the East 3-1 in the shootout; that also was changed by the NHL’s hockey operations department after most had departed. No, Bud Selig wasn’t running the show, either, even if it might have seemed like it amid the confusion.

“You heard the fans, they didn’t want to go home without somebody winning this game,” Turco said. “They wanted the East to win, but they were definitely excited and that got me pumped.”

Even Gretzky got excited. The Great One went to the East’s locker room before the third period and urged Heatley to go for the record.

“He told me to get five, six or seven,” Heatley said. “It was unbelievable for him to come down. Too bad I couldn’t get the fifth one.”

Players on both sides said that, unlike the cruise control level of most All-Star games, both teams really wanted to win this one.

“All of a sudden, with 12 to 15 minutes to go, everybody was getting in front of everything, there was a little more stick work and the competitive juices got flowing,” the West’s Al MacInnis said. Olli Jokinen said, “It was a lot faster and we even saw a few hits. It’s a game for the fans, and I think this was the best (All-Star game) in many years.”

Heatley, a 22-year-old overshadowed at times on his own Atlanta Thrashers team by Ilya Kovalchuk, matched Gretzky (1983), Lemieux (1990), Vincent Damphousse (1991) and Mike Gartner (1993) as the only players in the All-Star game’s 53-year history with four goals.

He’s also the youngest at 22 years and 13 days, or one day younger than Gretzky was in ’83.

“I was pretty relaxed,” Heatley said. “After I got the first one (against Patrick Roy), I was pretty relaxed and the chances kept coming and I put a few in.”

By taking away Heatley’s shootout goal, the NHL also prevented him from matching Lemieux’s 1988 record of six points in a game.

After getting his fourth goal with six minutes still remaining in the second period, Heatley flashed a typical hockey player’s missing-tooth grin, then spent the rest of the fast-moving and relatively low-scoring game trying to get his record fifth goal.

His linemates, who usually included home-ice star Jokinen of Florida and Washington’s Jaromir Jagr, tried to get it for him too, repeatedly giving him the puck every time he hit the ice.

He didn’t get that fifth goal in regulation, but Heatley did set up Jokinen’s first career All-Star goal midway through the third period. Jokinen, a late addition to the game when Saku Koivu pulled out with an injury, also had a memorable debut with a goal and three assists.

Heatley’s big game came only one year after he played in the Young Stars game, held the night before the All-Star game.