Eastern Conference Tops Western Conference, 8-7ATLANTA
– After an eventful weekend of build up and anticipation, the stars were on display at the 56th NHL All-Star Game on Sunday night at Philips Arena in Atlanta. The Eastern Conference edged out the Western Conference in the high-paced affair, 8-7, thanks to Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard’s goal with just 21 seconds remaining.
Sharks head coach Ron Wilson, who served as the Western Conference’s assistant coach, helped set a lineup that featured Sharks forward Joe Thornton
both at left wing and at center. Thornton skated on a line with Vancouver Canucks forward Henrik Sedin, who also alternated on the left side and in the middle, and Minnesota Wild forward Marian Gaborik who played on the right.
Along with Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, Wilson selected Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to play the second period for the West, relieving Detroit netminder Chris Osgood.
Nabokov was perfect in his 20 minutes of work, stopping all eight shots he faced in and doing so in style. Nabokov dazzled fans with two unbelievable saves on hometown favorite Ilya Kovalchuk, first with an all-world glove save on a blast from the slot, then again in the closing seconds of the second period with a perfectly timed two-pad stack on Kovalchuk’s breakaway.
“It was nice for Nabby to get the recognition that he deserves,” said Wilson. “People in the hockey world know how good he is, but maybe the casual fan hasn’t had the chance to see him play. (Tonight) he was able to show, first of all why he was at the All-Star Game, but also just how good he really is.”
Nabokov, who was mobbed by members of the American, Canadian and Russian media following his stellar performance, was humble in his interviews following the game.
“I never even thought about it(before the game),” he said. “The first 10 minutes I faced maybe one shot. But with two minutes left, I started thinking about it and I was telling myself, ‘As soon as I starting thinking about it, they’re going to score.’ And sure enough, we had a breakaway and (Kovalchuk’s) shots, but they didn’t score.”
Like Nabokov, Thornton’s best period was the second where the five-time All-Star recorded his first career point in an All-Star game. With 4:52 remaining in the frame, Thornton set up shop in his usual position on the right wing half wall, then found Anaheim Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer with a tape-to-tape pass. Niedermayer caught the pass in stride and snapped it over Florida Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun’s shoulder and into the top corner.
“I was a little disappointed,” Thornton said jokingly after the game. “I was hoping to go through all the All-Star Games without a point. So it’s kind of disappointing for me but… No, it was nice and obviously Scotty Niedermayer made a great shot to put it in the back of the net.”
For Wilson, it was a great opportunity to get to spend some time with his players in a stress-free environment.
“Joe was his usual self,” Wilson said. “He was making a lot of passes and he’s just a great guy. It’s fun to be around these guys in a relaxed atmosphere like this.”
For Thornton, the feeling was mutual.
“It was great having Ronny and Nabby here,” he said. “It’s always extra special to come with teammates. We got down a little bit early, but we came back. It was a fun game to be a part of.”
Nabokov became the first goaltender since 2002 not to allow a goal during his All-Star Game appearance. The last player to accomplish that feat was Nikolai Khabibulin.
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash set a new All-Star Game record for fastest goal, scoring just 12 seconds after the opening faceoff. Nash, a close friend of Thornton, also became the 15th player in League history to net a hat trick in the All-Star game. Thornton and Nash both played for Davos of the Swiss A-League during the lockout.
For the sixth consecutive All-Star Game, neither team committed a minor penalty. The last player to take a penalty in an All-Star Game is current Sharks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, who was whistled for hooking in Toronto (2000).
LINEUP2008 Western Conference All-Stars
Nash – Datsyuk – Iginla (C)
Thornton – Sedin – Gaborik
Getzlaf – Arnott – Perry
Horcoff – Kopitar – Ribeiro
Lidstrom – Phaneuf
Pronger – Keith
Niedermayer – Jovanovski
Osgood – Nabokov – Legace2008 Eastern Conference All-Stars
Kovalchuk – Lecavalier (C) – Alfredsson
Malkin – Savard – Staal
Ovechkin – Spezza – St. Louis
Richards – Gomez – Hossa
Markov – Chara
Campbell – Gonchar
Kaberle – Timonen
DiPietro – Vokoun – Thomas
Thornton, Nabokov, Wilson and the rest of the San Jose Sharks squad returns to action on Tuesday night when they travel to Alberta for their game against Shawn Horcoff and the Edmonton Oilers. The game, set for 6:30 PM (Pacific), will be nationally televised on VERSUS in HD and also broadcast on KFOX 98.5 FM, Sharks Radio Network Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.