NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- The Ottawa Senators may be the worst team in the NHL, but their leading scorer, Alexei Yashin, is one of the league's best players under pressure.
Yashin, a 20-year-old rookie, scored the winning goal for the Eastern Conference All-Stars in the NHL's 45th All-Star Game with 3:29 to play yesterday.
"It is very hard to realize what I did now," Yashin said through a Russian translator. "Maybe in a few days, a week or a year, I'll feel the importance of it. But right now, all I know is that just to have played in this game means more to me than scoring 500 goals."
It took a two-goal rally to pull off the 9-8 victory. Yashin, Ottawa's center, and Bob Kudelski, Ottawa's former leading scorer who now plays for the expansion Florida Panthers, scored back-to-back to put the East in the lead for the first time all afternoon.
Yashin and Kudelski finished with two goals each.
"I think it's nice for guys to come to all-star games 14 or 15 times," said Western coach Barry Melrose. "But I think it's terrific for those guys to see guys who are here for the first time, seeing them so excited and seeing them get such good results."
And Yashin wasn't kidding about the importance of this game. As the locker room cleared out, he gathered his belongings and picked up a very important stick.
"It has all my conference teammates' names," he said in English, showing the stick and smiling for the first time. "Each one of them signed for me. It is special. It is not for sale."
Ready to shoot it out
Melrose and Eastern coach Jacques Demers were ready if the game had gone to a shootout.
Melrose's lineup: Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Teemu Selanne, Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan.
"[Wayne] Gretzky doesn't like shootouts," said Melrose. "He would have been my man for sudden death."
Demers said he would have made the sellout crowd here happy by using New York Rangers Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter (yes, the goalie) and Buffalo's Alexander Mogilny. In sudden death, it would have been up to the Philadelphia Flyers' Eric Lindros.
Big Al makes contact
When the clock was running down and the Western stars were trying to mount an attack, Washington defenseman Al Iafrate put a big hit on Paul Coffey of Detroit.
"I didn't want to be on the ice for a tying goal," Iafrate said. "I took his knee out. It got a little more intense at the end."
Earlier in the game, when Bure, who got two assists, got off one of his six shots and tried to follow up, Iafrate got his stick under Bure's stick.
"I lifted his stick and prevented the shot. I think I won the game for us," Iafrate said, laughing.
Lindros hits 'em all
There were only a handful of truly good hits, and Lindros delivered two of them.
The first came early in the opening period, when he checked his teammate, Mark Ricchi. The second came midway through the second period, behind the Western net, when he hit Al McInnes of Calgary.
Which only goes to show he's a "two-way" player.
Records and such
Gretzky's two assists tied Gordie Howe for first place on the All-Star point-scoring list with 19. . . . The teams combined to score the fastest four goals in game history. The goals came in a 3:29 span in the first period: (Western) Jeremy Roenick, 7:31; (Eastern) Kudelski, 9:46; (Western) Fedorov, 10:20; and (Eastern) Lindros, 11:00.
Boston defenseman Ray Bourque got one assist to increase his all-time leading total to 11 in 13 games. . . . The teams combined for a record 102 shots, Eastern 56, Western 46. . . . It was the third-highest-scoring game in history, behind last year's 22-goal explosion in Montreal and the 1990 game in Pittsburgh, where 19 were scored. . . . Roenick extended his All-Star scoring streak to four games. . . . Coffey, playing in his 12th All-Star Game, scored his first goal at 12:36 of the second period.
Players reject offer
While commissioner Gary Bettman was saying there was nothing new in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the NHL Players Association Friday, NHLPA director Bob Goodenow said his group rejected a league offer that included a salary cap plan.
Bettman said he is "optimistic we can come to an agreement." Goodenow said, "I don't see a deal right now."
The rift between the two sides is heading toward petty.
The NHL booked the All-Stars into a midtown hotel in which most of the league personnel, the old-timers and the media are staying, but the owners stayed in more upscale digs.
The NHLPA moved the All-Stars across town to much better lodging. A day after the players changed hotels, the league announced it is taking them to court over the right to sell jerseys with players' names on them without compensation.
Jagr goes home
Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Jaromir Jagr went home yesterday before the game. Jagr suffered a right groin strain Friday night in the fastest skater competition.
His absence changed the starting lineup, with Messier at center, Mogilny shifting to left wing and Lindros moving from center to right wing.