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Southeast players key to Eastern Conference win

by Robert Picarello

Eric Staal's two goals and one assist, helped the East top the West 8-7. Staal highlights
Thanks to players from the Southeast Division, the Eastern Conference won the NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta last weekend.

Not only did five of the eight goals scored by the East in the 8-7 win come from the Southeast, the division also produced the game's MVP, Eric Staal. The Carolina forward scored two goals and one assist in his second All-Star appearance.

"Any time you can be named an MVP of this type of event with the amount of players that were out there, it's an honor for sure. I'll take it," Staal said.

As MVP, Staal got to take home the 2008 McDonald's NHL All-Star Game MVP Award – a specially-commissioned crystal trophy – and a 2008 Dodge Journey.

"It was a great time," Staal said. "I thought they put on a great show. Fans are a lot of fun. It was a big turnout. Lot of kids. I think the guys really enjoyed it.”

So did Staal, playing on a line with Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk and Boston's Marc Savard. The trio teamed up to score three goals and three assists, including Savard's game-winner with only 20.9 seconds left in regulation. But the East would not have been in a position to win the game without Staal's heroics. The Hurricanes' center got things going by tying the game, 1-1, a little over a minute after Rick Nash gave the West a 1-0 lead. His second goal of the night – a memorable two-on-one break with Kovalchuk – was also an important tally, as it tied the game 7-7 with 7:25 left.

Robert Picarello
Robert Picarello reports on the Southeast Division every week throughout the 2007-08 regular season.
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"Anytime you go down the ice with Ilya, he's one of those players who has such a great shot that the goalie kind of knows that," Staal said. "I just moved to him right away and tried to move to get him that goal. He made a great pass back to me and he kind of fooled both the goalie and the defenseman. I just looked up and saw empty net, and it was a nice play by him."

Staal's final point of the game – an assist on Savard's game-winner – was also a nice play, as it helped seal the deal for the East.

"He's a great player, no question about it," Kovalchuk said of Staal. "It's one of those games when you don't care who you play with. You know, they're all good, they're all the best. So he is one of those guys who I really enjoy to play with."

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals had a pair of goals in the win, while Marian Hossa of the hometown Thrashers, chipped in a goal and an assist for the winners. The captain for the East, Vincent Lecavalier, recorded one assist in the game, while his Tampa teammate, Marty St. Louis, contributed two assists on the night.

The Southeast also supplied two of the East's starting forwards, as Kovalchuk and Lecavalier opened on a line with Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson, the League's leading scorer.

Who's hot -- Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin was named one the NHL's Three Stars for the week ending Jan. 27. The Caps' sniper recorded six points in three games off three goals and three assists, helping Washington post a 2-1-0 record before the All-Star break. Ovechkin started things last week by registering two goals and an assist in regulation – plus another tally in the shootout round – in a thrilling, come-from-behind, 6-5 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 21. He followed up that impressive performance by scoring one goal in a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 23 and finished up the first half by picking up assists on both Washington goals in a 2-1 victory over Toronto the following evening. Ovechkin entered the All-Star break with a seven-game point streak (7-7-14) and has 25-17-42 and a plus-11 rating in 29 games since Bruce Boudreau was named head coach.

I think it's very important that if you're going to be a winning team, you have to work together. That's a big point. - Nicklas Backstrom

Southeast Quotes -- " I think the coach has been a good help for us. And he has been changing the system a little bit. Little more aggressive in the system. And the whole team is working together. That is the biggest key. I think it's very important that if you're going to be a winning team, you have to work together. That's a big point."

-- Washington rookie Nicklas Backstrom on the team's success before the All-Star break.

"I think he likes it here. I think he's happy in Carolina. We're certainly happy with him."

-- Carolina head coach Peter Laviolette on Sergei Samsonov's contributions since the club picked up the former NHL All-Star on re-entry waivers from Chicago in early January.

A look ahead -- On Friday, the Panthers host the Canucks, and the Thrashers welcome the Sabres to Atlanta. On Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes travel to Pittsburgh, the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Panthers, and the Capitals entertain the Thrashers.


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