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June 26, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
When it comes to fake hockey, the 2008 All-Star Game could have been worse. I mean, it could have gone to overtime. Thankfully, Marc Savard spared everyone the horror, snapping a wrist shot over Manny Legace's blocker with 20.9 seconds left in regulation to give the Eastern Conference an 8-7 win.
Rick Nash wasted little time in getting the West on the board, scoring just 12 seconds into the game. It was the fastest goal in All-Star history. The East wasn't impressed and dominated the remainder of the frame, carrying a 5-1 advantage into the first intermission. The West would methodically chip away, seizing a 7-6 lead in the third before Eric Staal tied things at 12:45 on a two-on-one with Ilya Kovalchuk. Staal, who also had a first-period tally, would assist on Savard's winner, earning the MVP and a new car for his troubles.
"It's a neat feeling," said Staal. "A little surprised, but I'll take the honor. It was a great game, lot of fun. Obviously tons of talent on both teams, and I'll take it."
It really wasn't as exciting as the score would indicate. Sure, the final two or three minutes were decent, but overall it was standard All-Star fare, featuring far too little intensity and way too much passing. I just never got the feeling anyone wanted to win. They were all sort of going through the motions. Even at the end of the game, I really didn't see anyone taking charge or sacrificing for the victory.
Yeah, I realize it's an All-Star Game, but have some pride. Bad hockey is bad hockey. I'm not saying they have to run guys through the boards, but would it kill them to backcheck? Or here's a zany idea, how about shooting the puck once in a while? Everything doesn't have to be tic-tac-toe.
Don't get me wrong, there were some nice plays and even a couple truly memorable moments, but something was missing. I think it's a product of having so many young All-Stars. There aren't enough players involved who remember what it was like when the game actually meant something.
In the past, things would always get serious if the outcome was in doubt in the third period. But they were still trading two-on-ones late in regulation. I guarantee the game would have had more intensity if Sidney Crosby had played. Kid Crosby doesn't take a dive for anyone. He would have brought it each and every shift, and he would have made sure his teammates did the same once the game was on the line.
"There was a lot of good flow and good speed," said West captain Jarome Iginla in defense of the game. "Nobody wanted to give anybody any easy goals. Guys weren't moving out of the way or not backchecking, it was good. That's what we wanted. We wanted it to be competitive."
Really? Could have fooled me.
1. Rick Nash: The Monster Nash had the hat trick for the West. While all three goals were sweet, the final tally, which came at 1:56 of the third, was real wizard. Iginla knocked the puck away from Kimmo Timonen at the left point. Nash gathered the loose biscuit at his own stripe and rocketed up ice, leaving Timonen and Brian Campbell in his dust. As he came in on net, Nash turned his hips and roofed a backhander over a sprawling Tim Thomas. Atlanta hasn't seen such destruction since the days of General Sherman.
2. Rick Nash: Nash's second goal was equally brilliant. Pavel Datsyuk gave him a beautiful lead pass through center, freeing Nash to barrel behind Campbell and Sergei Gonchar for a breakaway. He wrecked Tomas Vokoun with a forehand-backhand move. I don't think Siegfried and Roy ever beat a Panther that badly.
3. Alexander Ovechkin: Ovechkin had two goals on the night, both coming in the first period. The second one, at 17:49, was the rare tic-tac-toe play that worked. It started with Gonchar skating down the right wing and dropping a pass to Jason Spezza in the high slot. Always the crafty one, Spezza took a big wind up to sell the slapper but instead one-timed a pass down low to Martin St. Louis at the bottom of the left circle. St. Louis immediately pushed a pass in front to Ovechkin, who easily tapped it behind a bewildered Chris Osgood. (Sunshine) Detroit.
Eric Staal: He wasn't exactly a dominant MVP, but Staal did lead the team with three points, and he tied the game and assisted on the winner, so that should count for something.
"I think the fact that we won, and I was on the ice in the last goal gave me a good shot at it," said Staal of his MVP. "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, so I was fortunate enough to be the one called up there. A little surprised, but obviously glad in the end."
Brian Campbell: Campbell also had three points, collecting a goal and two assists. His best play came on the game-winner. He was circling in from the right point and one-touched a Staal centering pass to Savard in the slot. The quick puck movement was enough to freeze Legace for a split second, giving Savard the top corner.
Ilya Kovalchuk: He tied for the team-lead in shots with six, but he couldn't buy a goal. His head-to-head confrontations with Evgeni Nabokov in the second period were certainly entertaining, though. The first glorious chance came after a scramble at the left side of the cage. Savard was able to whack the puck free to Kovalchuk standing alone between the hash marks. Atlanta's favorite son ticketed a quick snapper for the top right corner, but Nabokov went down and flashed the glove to rob him blind. Kovalchuk fell backwards on the ice in defeat, creating a perfect metaphor for the entire Atlanta franchise. If a Thrasher falls on Versus, and no one's tuned in to see it, does he make a sound?
In the final seconds of the period, Kovalchuk had a chance for revenge, streaking in alone from center ice. Nabokov forced the issue, reaching out with the poke-check and stacking the pads to deny Kovalchuk's bid for the low right corner.
"Yeah, Nabokov, he makes some great saves," said Kovalchuk. "You know, he is a great goalie. I want to score bad, but our team wins, it's good."
Kovalchuk had a hand in the win, setting up Staal for the game-tying goal. They had a two-on-one against Dion Phaneuf and worked a gorgeous give-and-go, with Kovalchuk touching a pass back to Staal for the finish.
"Yeah, any time you go down the ice with Ilya, he's one of those players that has such a great shot that the goalie kind of knows that," said Staal. "And I just moved to him right away and tried to get him that goal. And made a great pass back to me, and he kind of fooled both the goalie and defensemen, and I just looked up and saw empty net, and it was a nice play by him."
"I think everybody in the building think I'm going to shoot it," said the Thrashers winger. "So yeah, it was pretty nice play. I think fans love those kinds of stuff. So it's all about them."
That's right, it's all about the kids. Kovalchuk also accomplished the rarest of rare All-Star feats, actually throwing a check. Well, it was more of an accidental collision, but he still knocked Ed Jovanovski to the ice.
"Actually, he tried to kill me," explained Kovalchuk. "He stopped and everybody circled. Nobody stopped and then all of a sudden he stops. Yeah, there's usually one or two body checks during the AllStar. So we got one. I was involved. It's not very good."
Rick Nash: Nash was a beast. Whenever this kid plays with elite players, he always puts on a show. He's 50 goals waiting to happen. Get him a center, Columbus. Please.
Evgeni Nabokov: The West outshot the East 20-8 in the second period, but Nabokov was exceptional in net, making the saves of the game against Kovalchuk. He kept the game close.
Ryan Getzlaf: He just gets better and better each time I see him play. His hands are ridiculous.
But my favorite moment of incompetence came just after Savard scored the game-winner. There were 21 seconds left, the crowd was going wild, everyone was happy, and that's when Versus decides to run a player profile of Nicklas Lidstrom. What? Nice timing. How does that even happen? I'm just glad this thing wasn't televised, or the league would be humiliated.