All-star game MVP Eric Staal helps set up winner
ATLANTA - Eric Staal once again set the bar higher for his younger hockey-playing brothers with an NHL all-star MVP performance Sunday night.
Marc, Jordan and Jared now have to not only match their older brother's Stanley Cup ring but also try to bring home a shiny new truck as awarded to the all-star game MVP.
"If they play their cards right maybe they'll get the keys, but I don't know," Eric Staal said after the 56th NHL all-star game. "It's doubtful, very doubtful."
In fact, maybe it makes more sense to send the truck back home to Thunder Bay, Ont., for mom and dad.
"I was saying to the guys on the ice if I do give it to my parents, I would for sure be the favourite of the family for at least a little while," Staal said with a laugh. "But we'll see what happens."
Staal scored twice and helped set up Marc Savard's game-winner with 20.9 seconds remaining in the third period as the Eastern Conference edged the Western Conference 8-7 before a soldout and enthusiastic crowd of 18,644 at Philips Arena.
The Western Conference was led by Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who recorded the 15th hat trick in all-star game history but Staal edged him for MVP, bringing home a brand-new Dodge Journey as a result.
Staal admitted it crossed his mind he might possibly hear his name when the MVP was announced.
"I think the fact that we won and I was on the ice for the last goal gave me a good shot at it," he said. "But obviously Nasher with three tucks, I thought that he might have a crack at it. But I guess they wanted someone from the winning side."
Staal meshed on a line with Savard of the Boston Bruins and Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers, creating numerous chances throughout a game that provided a thrilling and frantic finish.
"He's a great player, no question about it," said Kovalchuk. "It's one of those games when you don't care who you play with. But he is one of those guys who I really enjoy playing with."
Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals had a pair of goals while Marian Hossa of the hometown Thrashers, Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens and Brian Campbell of the Buffalo Sabres also scored for the East, who won despite missing the game's brightest star in Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 20-year-old centre is out with a high ankle sprain.
Marian Gaborik of the Minnesota Wild, Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames, Scott Niedermayer and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks added goals for the West, who beat the East 12-9 last year in Dallas.
Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks pitched a shutout in his 20 minutes of work with eight saves but it's Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, the unlikely all-star, who got credited with the win despite allowing four goals on 18 shots.
"It felt pretty good to come up with the 'W' at the end," said Thomas. "Especially the way the period started for me with like four goals in about four minutes or whatever it was."
It appeared early on as if it would be a big night for goals, with both teams scoring on their first shot.
Nash scored the fastest goal in all-star game history, jumping on a Markov turnover and rifling a wrist shot top corner and glove side on New York Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro just 12 seconds into the contest to give the West the early 1-0 lead. The previous record was 19 seconds by Ted Lindsay at the 1950 all-star game.
But then it was all Eastern Conference for the rest of the period, Staal tying it 1-1 at 1:20 when he patiently outwaited Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood and beat him upstairs.
Markov, among the 15 first-time all-stars in Sunday's game, made up for his earlier gaffe when he pinched in and re-directed a nice pass from Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers at 9:43 to make it 2-1.
Ovechkin got his first of two goals in the period when he one-timed a beauty of a backhand pass from Ottawa Senators centre Jason Spezza at 13:35. It was 4-1 at 15:10 when Campbell snuck in from the point and one-timed a pass from Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.
Ovechkin completed the first-period scoring at 17:49 when Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning found him at the side of the net for an easy tap-in and a 5-1 lead.
Nash, playing on a line with Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings and Jarome Iginla of the Flames, popped his second goal of the game at 9:34 of the second period. He used a dazzling backhand deke to undress Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers on a breakaway.
The West then scored again to cut it to 5-3, with Niedermayer snapping a low wrist shot from the slot past Vokoun at 15:08.
While the scoring was done for the period, the entertainment was not. Hometown favourite Ilya Kovalchuk of the Thrashers, all alone in front, was stoned on a flashy glove save from Nabokov -- easily the best save of the game.
If that wasn't enough, Nabokov then stacked the pads on Kovalchuk on a breakaway as time expired in the middle period. Kovalchuk dropped and kicked his stick in mock disgust.
The West kept crawling back as Getzlaf roofed a shot from in-close over Thomas just 41 seconds into the third period to cut the Eastern lead to 5-4. It was all tied up when Nash danced in alone and beat Thomas with a backhand beauty at 1:56.
The fans were on their feet when Hossa put the East back up 6-5. The Thrashers winger finishing off a pretty 2-on-1 break with Scott Gomez and beating a defenceless Manny Legace of the St. Louis Blues at 4:08.
But the scoring continued as Phaneuf slid a loose puck behind Thomas at 5:12 to tie again at 6-6 before Gaborik gave the West its first lead since Nash's opening goal by one-timing a shot behind Thomas at 10:57.
The East wasn't about to give up, however, and Staal polished off a give-and-go with Kovalchuk at 12:35 to tie it 7-7. That set up Staal's final shift of the game when he found Campbell who then set up Savard in the slot and the Bruins centre beating Legace top corner on the glove side to cap a thrilling third period.