ATLANTA -- Late goals by Eric Staal and Marc Savard held off a strong third-period rally as the Eastern Conference escaped the 2008 NHL All-Star Game with an 8-6 victory over the Western Conference at Philips Arena Sunday.
The late goals from the two Eastern All-Stars blunted an exceptional effort from the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Rick Nash, who had a hat trick in the losing effort. Nash electrified the crowd with two breakaway goals.
Staal’s two goals and an assist were enough to make him the game’s most valuable player.
Trailing 5-1 after one period and 5-3 after two, the Western All-Stars made it a see-saw battle in the third period, as goals from Ryan Getzlaf, Nash and Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf offset a goal from the East’s Marian Hossa to knot the score 6-6 midway through the third.
Anaheim’s Getzlaf cut the lead to 5-4 just 41 seconds into the period when he made a terrific move in close on Boston’s Tim Thomas, lifting the puck over Thomas’ shoulder from in close off a pass from the Coyotes’ Ed Jovanovski.
Nash then completed his hat trick at 1:56, taking a pass from the Flames’ Jarome Iginla and once again racing into the Eastern Conference zone, beating Thomas with a backhanded shot to the glove side that tied the score 5-5.
The Thrashers’ Hossa put the East back on top, 6-5, at 4:08, converting a 2-on-1 with the Rangers’ Scott Gomez. Hossa took the pass from Gomez and fired with one knee on the ice that beat Blues goalie Manny Legace.
One of the more unlikely potential scorers in the game, Calgary’s Phaneuf, hit the open net at 5:07 off a pass from Getzlaf at the right post that again knotted the score, this time, 6-6.
The West’s Marian Gaborik gave the West its first lead of the game at 10:57 when he took a Henrik Sedin pass in the slot for the score that made it 7-6 for the West. But the lead was short lived when Staal scored his second of the game at 12:35 off an assist from Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk on a slick passing sequence to put the East back on top, 7-6.
The Atlanta Boys’ Choir had barely left the ice after performing the Star-Spangled Banner when the West scored the first goal, a record 12 seconds after the puck dropped.
Nash took advantage of a loose puck at the East’s blue line and before you could say “Is that a breakaway?” it was and Nash had beaten Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro with an unassisted goal that erased Detroit’s Ted Lindsay from the record book. Lindsay had previously scored the fastest goal in All-Star competition, 19 seconds in 1950.
As is normally the case in All-Star competition, a one-goal lead wasn’t going to cut it. In this case, the West’s lead lasted little over a minute when Staal, who was enjoying All-Star Weekend with his younger brother Marc, the New York Rangers’ rookie who skated in Saturday’s YoungStars game, tied it. Staal sent the puck over a sprawling Chris Osgood at 1:20 off a nice cross-ice feed from Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell.
The East took a 2-1 lead at 9:43, when Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov, standing at the left post, converted a Mike Richards cross-ice feed. Chances are Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau will remind Markov rather quickly that he isn’t to reprise his positioning on the goal when the regular season resumes Tuesday.
Washington’s Alex Ovechkin scored the first of his two first-period goals at 13:35, converting a sharp pass from Ottawa’s Jason Spezza from a tough angle and past Osgood for a 3-1 edge.
Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins set up Campbell for the East’s fourth goal at 15:10, firing a pass from the right corner out to the pinching defenseman for the score.
Ovechkin’s second of the period was perhaps the easiest of his career as Tampa Bay’s Marty St. Louis slid the puck to an unchecked Ovechkin in the slot that he tapped into the empty net at 17:49 for a 5-1 first-period edge.
Evgeni Nabokov was the star of the second period as the San Jose Sharks goalie shut down the Eastern All-Stars in general and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk in particular.
The West came out and blitzed the East, piling up 20 shots to the East’s eight, scoring two goals to cut the lead to 5-3 after 40 minutes.
Nash’s second goal of the game came on a clear breakaway as he split the Sergei Gonchar and Campbell and roared in on Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun, who was beaten with the backhand shot after Nash made a series of slick stickhandling moves at 9:34.
Anaheim defenseman Scott Niedermayer closed the gap to a pair of goals at 15:08 when he raced down the slot from the blue line, took a pass from the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and beat Vokoun with a stick-side shot.
Perhaps the signature moments of the game came late in the second and Nabokov was the star.
He made a sizzling glove save on a wide-open Kovalchuk with a minute left in the period. The Thrashers’ star had been left alone in the slot and picked the upper corner, but Nabokov threw out his glove and snagged the puck. After the save, Kovalchuk skated over and gave the goalie a hug.
Then Nabokov struck again as Kovalchuk was denied on a breakaway as time ran out in the period. Seeing time was almost gone, Kovalchuk roared in on the break, figuring it was his turn, but Nabokov stacked the pads and made another huge save, leaving Kovalchuk to toss his stick away as he jumped off the ice and down the corridor to the dressing room.