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Hats Off to Nash at All-Star Game

by Staff Writer / Columbus Blue Jackets
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 8-7 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.

As you might have expected in an All-Star setting with some of the sport?s top talents involved, the goals came fast and furious, especially in the first and third periods.

In the opening 20 minutes, the East jumped out to a 5-1 lead as Staal, Montreal?s Andrei Markov, Washington?s Alex Ovechkin (two) and Buffalo?s Brian Campbell scored.

The offensive tone was actually set by the West?s Rick Nash, who broke an All-Star record established by Ted Lindsay in 1950 when Nash scored just 12 seconds into the game.

Somewhat overlooked in the first-period goal glut was strong play in the Eastern net by the Islanders? Rick DiPietro, who allowed only Nash?s goal on 13 shots. The Red Wings? Chris Osgood wasn?t as fortunate as he absorbed the pounding from the East, allowing five goals on 16 shots.

San Jose?s Evgeni Nabokov was stellar in the second period, stopping all eight shots he faced to help the resurgent West get back into contention with two goal from Nash and Anaheim?s Scott Niedermayer to cut the lead to 5-3 after two periods.

The third period will be remembered for its see-saw nature as the Western Conference roared past the East to take a 7-6 lead midway through the final 20 minutes before the Eastern All-Stars regrouped and netted the game?s last two goals for the win.

All told, the East had 51 shots in the game and the West 33.

For the Eastern All-Stars, Staal had two goals and an assist. Washington?s Alex Ovechkin had two goals, Buffalo?s Brian Campbell had a goal and two assists and the Penguins? Evgeni Malkin, the Senators? Jason Spezza and Tampa Bay?s Marty St. Louis each had pairs of assists.

For the Western All-Stars, Nash led the way with his hat trick. The only other Western All-Stars with multiple points were Vancouver?s Henrik Sedin with two assists and Anaheim?s Ryan Getzlaf with a goal and an assist.

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 DiPietro with an unassisted goal.

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 Osgood at 1:20 off a nice cross-ice feed from Campbell.

The East took a 2-1 lead at 9:43, when 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.

Ovechkin scored the first of his two first-period goals at 13:35, converting a sharp pass from Spezza from a tough angle and past Osgood for a 3-1 edge.

Malkin 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 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.

Nabokov was tremendous in the second period, shutting down the East in general and Atlanta?s Ilya Kovalchuk in particular.

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. Seeing time was almost gone, Kovalchuk roared in on the breakaway, figuring it was finally 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.

Offensively, the West scored two goals to make it 5-3 after 40 minutes.

Nash?s second goal of the game came on a clear breakaway as he split 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 at 15:08 when he also raced down the slot from the blue line, took a pass from the Sharks? Joe Thornton, and beat Vokoun with a stick-side shot.

Seven goals found the back of the net in the third period as the lead changed hands three times.

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 Eastern Conference retook the lead, 6-5, when Hossa converted a 2-on-1 break with the Rangers? Scott Gomez at 4:08. But Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf scored from the slot into a vacant net at 5:07 off a pass from Getzlaf to bring the two squads even again at 6-6.

The Minnesota Wild?s Marian Gaborik gave the West its first lead of the game at 10:57 when he took a Sedin pass in the slot for the score that made it 7-6 for the West. But that didn?t last long as Staal scored his second of the game at 12:35 off an assist from Atlanta?s Ilya Kovalchuk on a slick passing sequence to tie the game at 7-7.

With the Western Conference pressing once again for a tie, former Thrasher Savard, who had heard it from his former hometown fans, scored off passes from Campbell and Staal with 21 seconds left to put the game away, 8-7.

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