-- Montreal Canadiens
forward Alex Kovalev
put another exclamation point on the Centennial celebration at Bell Centre Sunday night in grand fashion.
With a capacity crowd standing and cheering in unison during the first shootout in an All-Star Game in six seasons, the 35-year-old Kovalev wasn't about to disappoint.
Kovalev not only ripped home the decisive goal when he roofed a shot just inside the right post, but he would also take home the keys to a 2009 Honda Ridgeline truck after winning the Honda NHL MVP Award. Manabu Nishimae presented Kovalev with his prize at center ice before a jubilant crowd.
Kovalev, who served as captain of the Eastern Conference, also scored 2 regulation goals and dished 1 assist in a contest that featured 99 shots on net, including 48 by the East.
"You can't ask for a better moment than this," Kovalev said. "I came into this weekend really wanting to do something. I wanted to show the fans what I could do in the breakaway competition (Saturday), but after I didn't win that, I came back and got this. You can't ask for anything more than this in front of your hometown, to get MVP."
It was an honor every All-Star player felt Kovalev rightfully deserved.
"In a game of All-Star players with All-Star skills, he stood out by a mile," said Edmonton defenseman Sheldon Souray
, who scored twice for the West in his third All-Star appearance.
Calgary forward Jarome Iginla
also felt Kovalev was a great MVP selection.
"It's great for him and he's very deserving," Iginla said. "It's not like they gave it to him for sentimental reasons -- he deserved it. He played a great game and almost ended it in overtime."
Actually, Kovalev twice almost sealed the deal in the overtime session.
"Yeah, I hit two posts in the overtime, but that's been my luck this entire season," said Kovalev, who led his team with seven shots on goal. "The guys on the bench kept telling me to shoot, shoot, shoot. I was out there for a long time in overtime."
defenseman Scott Niedermayer
and his Western Conference mates were well aware what Kovalev was up to.
"I think we all knew what he was trying to do and we just didn't want to be the ones out there if he got the winner in overtime," Niedermayer said.
Kovalev hopes this could be the start of a fantastic second-half surge for himself and the Canadiens.
"Maybe this is the start of something better," he said. "But I know there's still a lot of work to be done; I can't stop at MVP, it's not enough. Our team (Montreal) has being doing a very good job to stay in the playoff race, so for us, it'll be important in the second half to finish out strong and get the real present (Stanley Cup) for the fans."
Kovalev, who played on a line with 2008 MVP Eric Staal
of Carolina and Evgeni Malkin
of Pittsburgh, scored goals in the first and second periods. His line netted four of the 11 goals scored by the East.
"I played with Evgeni before on the National Team, and I know the way he plays," Kovalev said. "We've talked about having fun during the game, and that's what we're trying to do. We're not trying to be too serious. Just enjoy it, and that's what we did."
Kovalev admitted he will likely auction off the truck for charity.
"I've been working with my charity (Alex Kovalev
Foundation) and the Russian Gift of Life," Kovalev said. "It doesn't really matter because, I mean, it's all for the kids."
With the score knotted 11-11 heading into the shootout, Eastern Conference coaches Claude Julien
of Boston and Guy Carbonneau
of Montreal penciled in Kovalev as the second shooter.
The swift 35-year-old old calmly skated in and beat Roberto Luongo
to his glove hand. Following another splendid save by Boston's Tim Thomas
, Washington's Alex Ovechkin
then sealed the deal on an ensuing shot on a spectacular five-juke touch that caromed off the left post.
Luongo, who made 13 saves in the third and in overtime, tipped his cap to Kovalev.
"He's got a lot of tricks in his bag and it is hard to stop him when you don't know what he is going to do," said Luongo.
"You can't ask for a better moment than this. I came into this weekend really wanting to do something. I wanted to show the fans what I could do in the breakaway competition (Saturday), but after I didn't win that, I came back and got this. You can't ask for anything more than this in front of your hometown, to get MVP."
-- Alex Kovalev
"It's probably icing on the cake for those Montreal Canadiens
fans," San Jose forward Patrick Marleau
said. "He's obviously got some great skill and he showed it in the game."
Kovalev felt very confident of his team's chances entering the overtime and the shootout.
"It's hard to remember other All-Star Games because I was a young kid and was a little nervous," he said. "But I was pretty comfortable about this game coming in and being in front of the crowd. You know you're going to have the support so it was a lot easier with the fans."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.