Kovalev scores 2 goals, another in SO to lift East

January 25, 2009 7:03:57 PM PST
The NHL All-Star game was settled in the newest of ways in hockey's oldest city. Alex Ovechkin sealed the Eastern Conference's 12-11 victory Sunday night with a goal in the third round of the shootout. It capped off the busiest of nights for the NHL's reigning MVP, who also had a goal and two assists.

The biggest cheer of the night went to hometown hero Alex Kovalev, the Canadiens star who earned MVP honors with a pair of breakaway goals and then another in the shootout against Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo.

For the first time since shootouts were implemented by the NHL to eliminate ties after the 2004-05 lockout, an All-Star game was decided by penalty shots. It also was used in 2003 to settle the West's 6-5 win over the East.

It was all set up by a wild third period and overtime. The teams were tied 8-8 after 40 minutes, and the East grabbed two leads in the final regulation frame, but couldn't get the winner past Luongo, who is from Montreal.

The only power play went to the West, and it took until overtime to get it. Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek went off for hooking 2:22 into the extra session, and - with the home fans chanting "Defense! Defense!" - Boston goalie Tim Thomas held off the West and earned his second straight one-goal, All-Star win.

Thomas was a late injury replacement last year, costing his family a trip to New York. He earned a return to the midseason classic during the initial roster selection by helping to backstop Boston to the best first-half record in the East.

He stopped Phoenix's Shane Doan and Columbus' Rick Nash in a perfect shootout performance.

The West led 1-0 just 1:16 into the game, but didn't get back on top until Doan made it 9-8 just 32 seconds into the third period. Dany Heatley, who scored four goals in the only other All-Star game decided by shootout, got the East even at 9 at 2:17.

Jonathan Toews restored the West's edge 15 seconds later and stood in line to have the winner until Martin St. Louis tied it again for the East with 6:41 remaining. Toews' fellow 20-year-old Chicago teammate, Patrick Kane, pushed the West on top for the final time 2 minutes later, and Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester forced overtime when he made it 11-11 with 3:39 left.

On a night filled with pageantry and a whole lot of offense, the Montreal Canadiens and a century rich with hockey history made the stars of today stop and take notice.

There were the traditional breakaways and the usual absence of defense, but what made this All-Star game different was the presence and reverence for the players of long ago.

Several times, faceoffs were delayed as Hall of Fame Canadiens such as Henri Richard, Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer stepped out of the tunnel and waved to the crowd as part of the season-long celebration of the Canadiens' 100th anniversary.

While fans cheered, players showed their appreciation with on-ice stick tapping. Even linesman Pierre Racicot, a native of the Montreal area, tucked the puck away so he could clap for the Canadiens heroes, too.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who received a record number of votes this season, wasn't able to play because of a recent knee injury. He was warmly greeted during pregame introductions as team owner Mario Lemieux looked on from a suite.

Also missing were Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, the Stanley Cup champions who were represented only by coach Mike Babcock on the West bench Ovechkin also had his eyes on activity in the crowd, but he was caught on the mega video screen gazing at a pair of female fans who were dancing together at their seats. He flashed his gapped smile and was cheered as his stare was revealed.

Ovechkin, the reigning NHL MVP and the champion of the breakaway challenge in Saturday's skill competition, showed exactly why he has become such a fan favorite in his 3½ seasons. He answered Keith Tkachuk's goal on the Western Conference's first shot with one of his own 5:10 later at 6:26, finishing off a sweet give-and-go with Boston's Marc Savard - who scored the winning goal in the final minute of last year's All-Star game.

The sold-out crowd voiced oohs and ahhs at moves such as Evgeni Malkin's puck-dribbling on his stick and his between-the-legs move that preceded his unassisted goal 7:45 into the second period that made it 7-4 for the East.

But the tradition-loving fans of the Canadiens remained quiet through lulls of action in the game that featured few whistles and a rare cover-up by the beleaguered goalies. They chanted "Let's Go Habs" and sang "Ole Ole Ole Ole" to add a soundtrack.

Bailey, the lion mascot of the Los Angeles Kings, banged his drum to incite some rhythmic clapping, too.

Kovalev, the East captain and one of four Canadiens in the starting lineup, scored the first of his breakaway goals in the first period when his team opened a 4-1 lead against Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere - a Montreal native.

Both sides recorded 11 shots in the first period. Canadiens goalie Carey Price held tough after giving up Tkachuk's early score and allowed only one more to Patrick Marleau with 11.5 seconds left in the frame that brought the West to 4-2.

It got rougher in the second.

The teams combined for eight goals in the opening 10:34, and the West pumped five past New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist to get even at 7. Lundqvist and Finnish counterpart Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota each faced 21 shots and gave up 10 goals combined as the game headed to the third tied 8-8.

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