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NHL's three-on-three format kicks up All-Star energy

NHL's three-on-three format kicks up All-Star energy
P.K. Subban of the Canadiens poses with Jaromir Jagr of the Panthers during All-Star Skill Competition at Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 30. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Florida Panthers and Atlantic division All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo thoughtfully got a gift to help 43-year-old teammate Jaromir Jagr survive the NHL's new three-on-three All-Star tournament Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.

"Just picked up a little something for ya for the three-on-three," Luongo tweeted above a photo of a Life Alert device. "Hope you wear it."

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The format might be strenuous for Jagr and younger players, but it's a welcome change from the formulas the NHL has tried and discarded in a futile effort to make the All-Star Game compelling.

Capitalizing on the popularity of the three-on-three overtime format adopted this season, the NHL brought a taste of the breathless pace to its All-Star showcase. Whether this format will be retained when the Kings host next year's All-Star weekend, on Jan 28-29, will depend in part on how Sunday's game plays out logistically and as entertainment.

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty hopes to see it at Staples Center next year, in part because the Kings have thrived on it this season with a 7-1 record in three-on-three play.

"I think it's better than five-on-five. Three-on-three, you almost have to try because you don't want to be the one guy that's embarrassed out there," he said Saturday. "It's going to make for more goals, more opportunities on net. When you get into a five-on-five game, that's kind of scrimmage-like. There's too many people on the ice to make a scoring play happen. Three-on-three is better for that."

Teams were selected based on division, and each division captain was chosen by fans. Players from the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions in the Eastern Conference will play each other in a three-on-three game Sunday, as will players from the Central and Pacific divisions in the West. The winners will meet in a three-on-three game for the championship and a $1-million prize pot.

The prize money also won Doughty's approval.

"We all play for pride and we're so competitive that we all want to win," he said, "but now that there's a significant amount of money on the table it will definitely make guys try harder."

Two high-profile players were selected but withdrew because of injuries, fewer than have bailed out in recent seasons. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks cited injuries for missing Sunday's game; per league rules, each will also have to miss his team's first game after the break.

Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, who leads the NHL in goals (30), assists (43) and points (73), expects players to bring extra energy to the three-on-three format.

"It's definitely going to be a more intense game than in past years," he said. "It's a good change the league has made, and now it's on the players to put on a fun show that fans want to watch."

Ducks and Pacific Division right wing Corey Perry said the format is "something different, and I think all the guys are going to embrace it." Kings and Pacific Division Coach Darryl Sutter also is looking forward to it.

"The format needed a change," Sutter said. "I know it's the same amount of players as normal, 40-some players, but I still think it should probably be a couple more.

"It's going to be something to see. The goalies are going to be the guys that get the brunt of it."

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Ah, the goalies. Jonathan Quick of the Kings, who will represent the Pacific Division along with Ducks goalie John Gibson, is resigned to facing spectacularly skilled opponents.

"You want to have fun and play well, but you want to make sure you're still healthy when you leave," he said. "You know what you're getting into. It's fun, especially with the three on three. It will give the goalies some opportunities to make some pretty cool saves, I would imagine, and obviously it will give guys an opportunity to score. That's kind of what it's all about, having fun, and fans will really enjoy it."

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen

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