Darren Eliot
Monday January 14th, 2008

No one is surprised that fans voted Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo as All-Star starting goaltenders for the Eastern and Western Conference respectively. The two are widely regarded -- and rightfully so -- as the current standard bearers at the position. Luongo won't appear, but Rick DiPietro will make his first All-Star appearance -- an eventuality he has been working towards since being selected first overall by the New York Islanders in 2000.

Tomas Vokoun's selection fulfills the prediction that he would provide quality goaltending for Florida, and his play is largely the reason the Panthers are in the playoff mix. Even Evgeni Nabokov's return to All-Star form isn't unexpected. His fine season definitively proves that he performs best when he is the clear-cut number one netminder instead of splitting time as he did the past couple of seasons with Vesa Toskala.

Those are all good stories in their own right. But the inclusion of Chris Osgood and Manny Legace on the West's roster is cause for celebration. The honor is not only acknowledgement of their fine first-half play, but validation of a body of work that is often overlooked. They're both undersized underdogs who are hard to categorize in today's game of 6' 2" minimum, default butterfly clones. Osgood and Legace have had to fight for everything they've achieved and seem to be getting better with age.

Legace, 34, especially is a symbol of a trend over the last few seasons where guys over 30 experience their career highs. Much like Dwayne Roloson in Edmonton, Legace spent most of his career in the shadows -- or splitting time at best. Legace performed well for the Detroit Red Wings as a back-up and then as a starter in stretches before signing with the St. Louis Blues prior to last season. With the Blues, he is proving his capacity to carry the burden of being a team's go-to goaltender.

Now Legace's an All-Star and, as such, is this year's beacon of sticktoitiveness. His first All-Star appearance just prior to turning 35 makes him not only a representative for the Blues and the Western Conference, he stands for a whole group of goalies who are making good on late career chances.

Tim Thomas in Boston was a goaltending vagabond haunting the minors and traveling overseas before he returned stateside and made the most of an opportunity presented by the Bruins to become the main man the last couple of seasons. Thomas turns 34 in April, and prior to playing 104 games over last two years, he had totaled four NHL appearances.

Now add Ty Conklin to the list. He is 9-0-1 for the Pittsburgh Penguins since his recall from the AHL when starter Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a high ankle sprain. Conklin, 31, has served as a back-up throughout his career, bouncing around from Edmonton to Columbus to Buffalo and living through the pain of giving up the game-winning goal during six minutes of relief in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

That event marked the end of Conklin's stay in Edmonton, rendering him to rent-a-goalie status. But here is, playing brilliantly on one of the highest-profile teams in the league. Conklin is on the run of a lifetime, diving, swimming and battling to make saves in any manner possible.

"Battle On" is the cry of this over-30 group of overachievers who are epitomized by Legace's All-Star recognition. It's always heartening to see hard work and persistence rewarded at last.

The Islanders visit the Devils on Wednesday in a matchup of DiPietro vs. Brodeur, who will be making his tenth All-Star appearance while DiPietro is going for the first time. DiPietro holds the lead in the season series, 3-1, however.

Staying in the east, Vokoun and his Panthers are on the road at Philadelphia (Wed.) and New Jersey onf Fri. (another all-star goaltending matchup) before wrapping up the week at Washington on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Legace and the Blues stay within the Central Division with games at Chicago (Wed.) and then a home-and-home set with the Nashville Predators (Sat. and Mon.). Osgood and the Red Wings host the Atlanta Thrashers (Tues.) and the Vancouver Canucks (Thurs.) before heading out to California for a weekend tilt in San Jose (Sat.), which could pit Osgood versus All-Star Nabokov.

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