ATLANTA – Never mind the fact the game was another no-hitter. Never mind there were no penalties, no offsides, no icings. Never mind it was skated basically at half-speed and that each team had a goalie miked for the television broadcast.
This was the NHL All-Star game, and the fans got exactly what they wanted – lots of scoring, including a final-minute game-winner.
Columbus Blue Jackets center Rick Nash was the offensive star with three goals and a team-leading seven shots on goal. In addition to collecting the 15th hat trick in All-Star history, Nash scored the fastest goal in the event when he converted a turnover and breakaway into a 1-0 West lead just 12 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Second-period performer Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks enabled the West to rally from a 5-1 first-period deficit by becoming the first goalie to enjoy a goal-less 20-minute session since 2002 when Nikolai Khabibulin turned the trick.
But in the end, it was none of those names walking off with the MVP trophy and the new automobile that goes with it. That went instead to Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal, who contributed two goals, an assist and was a plus-2 for the winning side.
"It's a neat feeling, a little surprised, but I'll take the honor," Staal said. "I think the fact that we won, and I was on the ice (for) the last goal gave me a shot at it. … I guess they wanted someone from the winning side, so I was fortunate enough to be the one called up there."
About that new car: Exactly what does Staal plan to do with it?
"Maybe the parents," Staal said of a family that has produced three NHLers with another on the way. "I was saying to the guys on the ice if I do give it to my parents, I would for sure be the favorite of the family for at least a little while."
Savard's only goal of the game helped to turn a scattering of boos during introductions Saturday night during the super skills competition into a thunderous ovation since it meant victory for the "home" team. Savard left the host Thrashers via unrestricted free agency in 2006.
"The last two or three minutes I was up and down the ice, a lot of chances both ways, and a big goal by Savard there to clinch it for us," Staal said. "We'll take the win."
After Marian Hossa of the Atlanta Thrashers gave the East a 6-5 lead, the West forged ahead for the first time since Nash's initial goal on scores from Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf and Marian Gaborik of the Minnesota Wild just past the mid-period mark.
But Staal's second of the game at 12:35 re-tied it and set the stage for Savard's heroics.
"It was a lot of fun," said Jarome Iginla, the Calgary Flames center who captained the West. "It was a good pace out there. Guys were working hard not to give up any easy goals. The goalies played great. There were some highlight goals, tic-tac-toe, which is the most fun, and the best game I've played in yet."
This game is often fun for everyone except the exposed goalies. It certainly wasn't a lot of fun for West starter Chris Osgood, who surrendered five goals in his 20 minutes when the West barely waved a stick at East foes.
And even winning goalie Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins was relieved afterward, saying, "Yeah, it was pretty good to come up with the 'W' at the end, especially the way that period started out for me with four goals in about four minutes."
But it was Nabokov's eight-save showing in the middle period that provided some of the best highlights of the game, certainly the best ones on the defensive front.
Nabokov saved his best for last, robbing hometown sniper and fellow countryman Ilya Kovalchuk with an extended glove save on a point-blank shot from the slot one minute and making a pad-stacking stop on a breakaway by the Thrashers' star the next.
"It was a little bit fun in the end," said Nabokov, the league-leader with 27 victories. "I didn't get too much action in the beginning … I just tried to enjoy myself."
"The little bit of hot dog that Nabby has, maybe he was able to exhibit that in the game," West assistant coach Ron Wilson of the Sharks said before turning playful. "I think he thought they were going to give a Lahta and that's why he tried so hard, he needs one."
After Nabokov robbed Kovalchuk from the slot, the snakebit forward fell backward on the ice, got up and then skated over to pat Nabokov on the helmet and say, "Great save."
"They all say it's lucky, but you need to be good to be lucky," said Kovalchuk in response to being told of Nabokov's comments. "Sometimes you score with everybody, and you're lucky, but you need to be in that kind of position at the right time and the right place to make those kind of saves."