ST. LOUIS - Jack Eichel tallied a combined four assists, but the Atlantic Division fell to the Pacific Division, 5-4, in the final matchup of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center on Saturday.
Eichel had three assists in the Atlantic's 9-5 victory over the Metropolitan Division, then added another in the tightly contested final matchup. His competitiveness showed afterward, with postgame comments reflecting a combination of appreciation for the moment and disappointment with the result.
"It was good," Eichel said. "Obviously, it sucks to lose, but it was a fun experience."
Video: Eichel after the All-Star Game
The role Eichel played on the Atlantic squad was emblematic of his growing stature among the league's stars. He took the opening faceoff alongside Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, with whom he skated throughout the night.
Pastrnak tallied a combined six points, including a hat trick in the first matchup, to take home Most Valuable Player honors. The trio of Eichel, Pastrnak, and Hedman combined for 15 points.
The Atlantic was able to pull away from its Eastern Conference counter part in the second period of the first matchup, with Eichel tallying two of his helpers during a string of five unanswered goals to end the contest with the Metropolitan.
With $1 million in prize money awarded to the winning team, the intensity picked up in the final. Eichel assisted on a Hedman goal to open the scoring just 24 seconds in, splitting a pair of defenders as he collected the puck behind the net and then feeding Pastrnak, who passed across to the defenseman.
The Atlantic went into the second period with a 3-1 lead, which was quickly erased by goals from Vancouver's Elias Pettersson and Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl. The two teams traded goals to make it 4-4 late, until San Jose forward Tomas Hertl broke the tie with 2:36 remaining.
"Both teams were playing pretty hard," Eichel said. "I mean, there's money on the line. Everyone's competitive."
"You get more and more serious as the games went on," added Hedman. "Both teams wanted to win. We still probably gave up six, seven breakaways so I don't know if it was that tight, but it's a lot of fun."
In spite of the outcome, the game marked the conclusion of a memorable third All-Star Weekend for Eichel. He spoke upon arriving in St. Louis on Thursday about his love for the event and his appreciation for his fellow All-Stars.
Perhaps more importantly, it was a valuable mental break from the long grind of the season. The Sabres had their bye week lead into the All-Star break, giving them seven days away from practice or games. They enter the final stretch of the season with nine of their next 10 games at home.
"It's a competitive race right now," Eichel said. "It seems like we need to go on a little streak, start winning some games, string some good efforts together and good things might happen. For us, we have a lot of home games coming up right now, just want to start it off on the right foot and go from there."
Eichel passes Martin
Yes, the format has changed over the years, but Eichel's four-point day moved him ahead of Rick Martin to claim the franchise record for most All-Star Game points as a Sabre. Eichel now has eight in three games. Martin had seven in seven appearances.
Eichel is just the seventh player in franchise history to appear in three All-Star Games, joining Martin, Gilbert Perreault (6), Dominik Hasek (5), Mike Ramsey (4), Phil Housley (3), and Alexander Mogilny (3).
Each team had an honorary captain join on the bench throughout the game. The Atlantic Division was represented by actress Jenna Fischer, providing a rare Sabres-"The Office" crossover.
The Sabres return from the break for practice on Sunday and Monday, then host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7.