Rambler's Top100

12 2003 . 
Lemieux, Kovalev, Jagr All-Star Game linemates

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It wasn't that long ago that the Penguins were able to deploy Mario Lemieux, Alexei Kovalev and Jaromir Jagr on one line.

And it will be less than a month until that trio will be reunited, though not in black and gold uniforms.

Those three will represent the Eastern Conference's front line at the 53rd NHL All-Star Game Feb. 2 in Sunrise, Fla., after being selected through fan balloting. Voting closed Dec. 27, and the league announced the results yesterday.

"I was laughing about it the other day with my wife, talking about being able to start on a line with all the guys who played in Pittsburgh," Kovalev said yesterday. "It's going to be fun because I played with Yags before and I'm playing with Mario now."

Lemieux, the league's leading scorer with 68 points, led all Eastern Conference players with 155,172 votes, finishing with 101,886 more votes than second-place center Ron Francis of the Carolina Hurricanes. It marked the first time he was selected by the fans to start since emerging from retirement, the 11th time overall.

Lemieux will have a chance to make All-Star history, needing one goal and three points to set all-time marks for the game. He and Wayne Gretzky each has 13 goals, and Lemieux has 23 points to Gretzky's 25, although Lemieux has appeared in eight fewer games. Lemieux and Gretzky also are tied for the most MVP titles with three each.

Jagr, traded by the Penguins to the Washington Capitals nearly two years ago, led Eastern wingers with 122,725 votes. Kovalev took the second winger's slot with 91,694 votes, beating out the Toronto Maple Leafs' Alexander Mogilny by only 246.

It will be Kovalev's second All-Star appearance -- he played in Denver two years ago -- but he said being the fans' choice to start will mean even more.

"I definitely feel great about it," he said. "Before, I was just in the All-Star Game, and that was a great feeling, too. But to have a chance to be in the starting lineup, it's a great opportunity. It definitely gives you some kind of lift for the future, that you've been recognized as a player like that."

The rest of the Eastern Conference starting lineup has the host Florida Panthers' Sandis Ozolinsh and the New York Rangers' Brian Leetch on defense, the Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikolai Khabibulin in goal.

The only other member of the Penguins on the ballot, Martin Straka, finished 16th among centers with 11,649 votes.

The Western Conference lineup is highlighted by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who led all NHL players in voting for the second consecutive year with 164,568. He has won the Norris Trophy as the league's best at his position the past two seasons.

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

Lidstrom's partner will be Rob Blake of the Colorado Avalanche. The starting forwards are Mike Modano and Bill Guerin of the Dallas Stars, and Teemu Selanne of the San Jose Sharks. The Avalanche's Patrick Roy will be in goal.

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