Simmonds named MVP as Metropolitan win NHL all-star final

Greg Heakes
AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) - Wayne Simmonds scored the game-winning goal halfway through the final period as the Metropolitan Division eased past the Pacific Division 4-3 to win the 2017 NHL All-Star Game final.

The Philadelphia Flyers forward finished off a two-on-none, taking a perfect feed from Taylor Hall and lifting the puck up over the outstretched arm of Pacific Division goaltender Mike Smith to break a 3-3 tie.

"This is one of the best days of my life. I had a blast with all these guys," said Simmonds, who was named Most Valuable Player. "I don't know if I realize what is going on right now."

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After an apparent goal by Anaheim's Ryan Kesler was ruled offside by a coach's challenge by Metropolitan coach Wayne Gretzky, forward Cam Atkinson tied the game at 3-3 on a breakaway goal. Simmonds added his goal immediately after a faceoff win by Hall.

Asked what it is like to be named MVP of Sunday's contest that featured the best-of-the-best in the sport, he said. "It sounds weird. But being named an All-Star was weird too. There are so many great players here."

Simmonds picked up a new car and will share in the $1 million prize money with his 10 teammates. He said one of the best moments of the weekend was getting to play on a team coached by the legendary Gretzky.

"I can't believe they put me on the ice at the beginning. I was dumbfounded," he said. "Wayne Gretzky in my opinion is the greatest player to play this game. To get a chance to play for him was an honor."

The festivities on Sunday at Staples Center arena started with about half of the NHL's recently chosen top 100 players coming out onto the ice to greet the current star players one-by-one.

Carly Rae Jepsen sang the Canadian anthem and Los Angeles Kings cheerleader Courtney Daniels sang the American anthem after the band Fifth Harmony pulled out at the last minute.

This is the third time Los Angeles has hosted the mid-season exhibition with the others taking place in 1981 and 2002.

In Saturday's skills contest, Montreal Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber successfully defended his hardest shot title with a 165 kilometre per hour (102 mph) blast.

Edmonton Oiler's rising star Connor McDavid won the fastest skater event while Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby claimed the title of most accurate shooter.

The Atlantic Division defeated the Pacific Division 9-7 in points as the skills competition determined the matchups for Sunday's game.

This year's format saw the league go to a three-on-three tournament that featured two semi-final games with the winning teams advancing to the 40-minute, two-period championship contest.

In the first semi-final, Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau scored two goals to lead a balanced attack in which everyone of the Pacific Division players scored a goal in a 10-3 win over the Central Division.

Alex Ovechkin and Crosby proved to be a dynamic duo for the Metropolitan Division as they combined for four points in a 10-6 win over the Atlantic Division, allowing them to punch their ticket to the final.

- Crosby, Ovechkin linemates -

Crosby said despite their numerous battles in NHL and international competition it was a pleasure to play with Washington Capitals star Ovechkin this weekend.

"This was a great experience from Friday until today. We (both) love the game," Crosby said. "We enjoyed ourselves didn't have to try to do that. Playing on the same team going through the skills it was easy for that to happen."

Oilers franchise player McDavid scored the prettiest goal of the final, a falling backhand deke around the pokecheck of Metropolitan goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to tie the game 2-2.

Gretzky was a late addition as coach of the Pacific Division team after Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella decided to skip the event because of an ill family pet.

"I kind of got picked by default. It is tough to get guys from the east coast to the west coast," said Gretzky, who was in Los Angeles this week as part of the festivities surrounding the naming of the top 100 players of all-time.

Gretzky echoed the feelings of most of the players when he said the three-on-three games made it more exciting.

"This three-on-three format been something of a positive for the league. You usually don't see this much intensity in an all-star game."

The NHL takes Monday off, but is back in action Tuesday with 14 games.

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