Kovalev the hero in NHL All-Star Game
Plenty of goals, non-existent defending, relaxed goaltending and no checking? It must be the NHL All-Star Game.
With many Montreal Canadiens legends in attendance as part of the franchise's 100th anniversary, the Eastern Conference team posted a 12-11 shootout victory over their Western Conference counterparts Sunday in the 57th NHL All-Star Game at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Montreal forward Alex Kovalev and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals scored on Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo in the shootout, and Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas stopped Shane Doan and Rick Nash to guide the Eastern team to victory.
Kovalev, who served as captain of the Eastern team, was named the game's MVP after scoring two goals (and the winner in the shootout) and tallying one assist in a contest that featured 99 shots on net.
'Something to remember': Kovalev
"To be voted an all-star by the fans,… to be in the starting lineup, then named captain, then win the MVP, you can't ask for more than this. This is going to be something to remember for the rest of my life," Kovalev told CBC Sports after the game.
The natural competitiveness of the players came out during the final minutes of regulation and in the overtime period, when the only penalty of the game was called. Kovalev had two great scoring chances in the extra frame, and Thomas made an outstanding pad save on Joe Thornton with the action going end-to-end.
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray, who had two goals for the West, wasn't surprised how the tone of the game turned more serious.
"Once you get out here, your competitive juices get going. The game was close, pride was on the line.… This is my third time coming here (to the All-Star Game), and I haven't been in one as competitive as this one was at the end," Souray acknowledged.
During stoppages in play, Montreal hockey greats such as Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard and Yvan Cournoyer were introduced over the public address system to the crowd.
Sunday marked the 13th time that the NHL All-Star Game was held in Montreal. The last game in the city was staged at the Forum in 1993.
The sense of occasion of being in Montreal for the game during the Canadiens' centenary year was not lost on the players.
"The history and everything surrounding this organization, it's special for the players to be here," Tampa Bay forward Vincent Lecavalier said.
It took 66 seconds for the floodgates to open, with Keith Tkachuk beating Montreal goalie Carey Price from in close to give the West the lead.
Things were quiet for the next five minutes before Ovechkin brought the Montreal crowd to its feet for the first time, scoring off a great give-and-go with Marc Savard to tie the score for the East.
Eric Staal's fourth career all-star goal at 9:30 put the East out front, as he slipped a backhander past Anaheim netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Kovalev earned an assist on the play.
Kovalev and Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov made it 4-1 for the East before Patrick Marleau responded for the West with 12 seconds left in the period.
Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom took over from Giguere at the start of the second period and was given a rude awakening — Martin St. Louis and Zach Parise scored 50 seconds apart early in the frame to give the East a 6-2 lead.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who replaced Price, wasn't spared from the onslaught, as Souray and fellow defenceman Dan Boyle replied with a pair of quick markers to pull the West within two after 5:14.
East can't hold lead
Next, Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin netted his first career all-star goal, slipping the puck through Backstrom's pads to make it 7-4 for the East, but Rick Nash scored on a breakaway, Milan Hejduk beat Lundqvist from the side of the net and Souray registered his second goal of the game to tie the contest for the West midway through the period.
Kovalev restored the East's lead, using his quick hands to flip a backhander by Backstrom on a breakaway at 13:36.
Jarome Iginla notched his first-ever all-star goal in five appearances with 3:14 left in the period to tie the game again.
The West took the lead for the first time since the opening frame when Doan scored on a pretty passing play 32 seconds into the third period as Thomas took over the East net.
The teams traded quick goals — Dany Heatley for the East at 2:17, Jonathan Toews for the West 15 seconds later — and after a 10-minute goal-drought, St. Louis bagged his second goal of the game, beating Luongo to tie it 10-10.
Chicago forward Patrick Kane gave the West an 11-10 lead at 15:19, but Florida defenceman Jay Bouwmeester knotted the score for the East a minute later.