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Atlanta's Kovalchuk, Hossa prove to be perfect hosts

Sunday, 01.27.2008 / 11:33 PM / 2008 NHL All-Star Game

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Eastern Conference All-Star Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals signs autographs for fans as he arrives at Philips Arena. ( Watch the Red Carpet arrivals)
ATLANTA – As the de facto hosts for the 2008 All-Star weekend, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk did their best to put on a good show for the home fans.

“This is a great show,” said Hossa. “Every one of us, all the players, had fun. Especially the home guys, me and Kovy. This was enjoyable.”

Both players had varying levels of success on the night, but each left a lasting mark of All-Star entertainment.

Hossa finished with a goal and an assist, while Kovalchuk’s night will be remembered more for the points he didn’t get rather than the late third-period assist he put on the score sheet.

Twice late in the second period, West goalie Evgeni Nabokov memorably robbed Kovalchuk, first intercepting a wrister from the slot that was making a beeline for the top corner of the net. A stunned Kovalchuk flopped onto his back and then hugged Nabokov.

As time ran out in the second, Nabokov stacked his pads to deny Kovalchuk on a breakaway. A frustrated Kovalchuk tossed his stick to the ice as he skated toward the locker room.

“Every time Kovy got the opportunity to shoot the puck, to try to score a goal, people were on their feet because everyone in the building was pulling for him to score a goal,” said East coach Don Waddell, also the coach/GM of the hometown Thrashers.

“Yeah, Nabokov, he makes some great saves,” said a disappointed Kovalchuk. “You know, he is a great goalie. I want to score bad, but our team wins, (so) it's good.”

“We know Kovy was trying to score a goal,” said Waddell. “He loves to score goals and he was trying to put a show on for our fans tonight. He got a little snake-bit there but he had some great chances. I thought Marian had a couple good assists and a nice goal.

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“Both guys, I knew, would give a good effort and we’re very pleased with both of them. It makes it even more exciting with our team in the East winning the game. Overall, it was a good night.”

It was an especially sweet night for Hossa, who finally scored his first All-Star goal in his fourth appearance.

“When I score I heard lots of people screaming,” said a beaming Hossa. “It’s a special feeling playing at home, getting the first (All-Star) goal. I’ll never forget it.”

“I thought that was great for Marian to score the goal,” said Waddell. “Guys always look forward to scoring that first (All-Star) goal, and to score your first goal in front of your home crowd makes it that much more special.”

Fans chanted “Hoss, Hoss” when Hossa scored, hoping possibly to persuade the high-scoring forward that Atlanta would be a place worth staying for the long-term. The 29-year-old Slovakian will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Rather than lose him for nothing, Waddell could opt to trade Hossa before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

So did knowing this could be one of his final outings in front of his home fans give Hossa extra motivation?

“I don’t really think about that right now,” said Hossa. “I’m at the All-Star Game and I’m trying to enjoy it. I’ll go back to reality tomorrow.”

Hossa told reporters that he hopes to stay in Atlanta, something Waddell certainly hopes can happen.

“We’re still in good negotiations with his representation and we’re hopeful we can get something done here,” said Waddell, “because certainly that’s our goal, to keep Marian here in Atlanta.”

Getting Hossa’s name on a new contract is the only thing that could make the 2008 All-Star experience better for Waddell.

“It was important for our fans for us to host this event,” he said. “We’ve been looking forward to it for so many years. To bring all the best players in the world under one roof, what a great opportunity for our fans. It’s a great reward for the support that they’ve given us.

“It’s been a great show. I thought last night, the skills competition was a lot of fun and exciting. I thought tonight the guys were into the game. You could see when it got to 6-5, 6-6, there was a lot of tension in the game. And we were fortunate to score the game-winner and win it.”

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com

I was in there icing my face as she was trying to push a baby out.

— Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf on going to the hospital with a facial laceration while his wife was in labor following Game 1 on Wednesday