The 53rd NHL All-Star Game was decided by a shootout for the first time today, with the Western Conference edging the East for a 6-5 victory at Office Depot Center, sparking renewed debate about how regular season games should be concluded. There has been some sentiment for years that the league should embrace the shootout, although traditionalists believe it does not adequately reflect the team concept inherent in the sport.

Anaheim's Paul Kariya, the fourth of five skaters for the Western Conference, scored the decisive goal in the extra sequence, beating Ottawa goaltender Patrick Lalime.

League officials have not given the shootout more than cursory consideration, but could bring up the matter again after today's events. The crowd roared when it was announced a shootout would take place after a five-minute overtime was completed. This was the fourth overtime game in all-star history (it also happened in 1978, '86 and '88) and the first shootout since that format was introduced in '94.

"You see how excited they were when the announced it was going to be a shootout?" Washington Capitals winger Jaromir Jagr asked. "It might be something the NHL is going to think about maybe in the next couple of years and maybe we can have a penalty shot or shootout after the game."

Atlanta forward Dany Heatley, who won the most valuable player award by scoring four goals and assisting on another, said he would like to see the NHL experiment with the shootout in the preseason and then consider adapting it to the regular season.

A Little More Action

This game was quite different from most all-star games. With the game tied in the third period, play turned intense, with players hustling and back checking. As usual, there were no penalties and little hitting, but some physical contact began in the corners and in front of the net with the game on the line.

"It seemed like all the way through the game there was some back checking," Washington defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "It never happened before; I never played in an all-star game like this before with back check and everything. It was fun."

Weight on Crutches

St. Louis center Doug Weight left the game in the third period after being struck with a shot in the left foot and did not return. He was on crutches and went for X-rays with what was announced as a bruised foot and no further update was available. . . . Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Vincent Damphousse and former Capital Mike Gartner are the other players to score four goals in an all-star game. Gartner did it last in 1993.