With a new tournament format, the games being played entirely at 3-on-3, and a $1 million cash prize to the winning squad, the NHL showed that All-Star Weekend isn’t just about the SuperSkills Competition anymore. With a faster pace, shorter shifts, some good goaltending, and the occasional backcheck, this year’s tournament delivered from beginning to end.
Since the Eastern Conference won Saturday’s SuperSkills Competition, the Metropolitan and Atlantic Division teams chose to play the first game and the defensive players did not disappoint. Defensemen Kris Letang and Eric Karlsson both scored early goals back-to-back. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jaromir Jagr then traded goals up until the the break at the 10-minute mark, when each team changed goalies. Ben Bishop would get his first taste of the NHL All-Star Game, but unfortunately for him, Evgeni Malkin scored on him with a spin-o-rama move to put the Metro Division up 3-2. However, that lead wouldn’t last as Ryan O’Reilly connected on a pass to Aaron Ekblad, who tied the game 3-3. P.K. Subban then gave the Atlantic Division the lead for good, notching the eventual game-winner that would give the Atlantic a 4-3 win. MVP watch goes to rookie Dylan Larkin who had three assists. Less then 24 hours prior, Larkin won the fastest skater competition, beating a record set 20 years before by Mike Gartner.
The Western Conference game got started and did not cease to prove me wrong. How so, you might ask? Previously I stated that there were other players that should have replaced Jonathan Toews before James Neal, and that John Scott did not belong in the All-Star Game. Both scored for their respected divisions early on. Central Division goalie Pekka Rinne played the puck in the “no touch” zone outside the trapezoid behind the net giving the Pacific Division a one-minute power play, which Joe Pavelski converted. The Central appeared to have a good amount of control of the puck in the Pacific’s zone, eventually leading to another goal by Neal. However, Johnny Gaudreau gave the Pacific the lead once again. The captains got into it a bit when Scott gave Patrick Kane an open ice hit, and then ended up with the puck on his stick on a breakaway. Unfortunately for Scott, he missed an open shot, leading to a long pass from Rinne to Jamie Benn, who found an open Kane for a goal. The goalies switched, with Devan Dubnyk taking over for the Central, while John Gibson took over the Pacific’s crease. Like Bishop, Gibson was also playing in his first All-Star Game. Gibson got a off to a tremendous start, sending a lead pass to Daniel Sedin, who scored to give the Pacific the lead. The Pacific began to run away with the game as Scott and Taylor Hall scored two quick goals. Dubnyk then lost the puck, giving Dniel Sedin an open net for another goal. Things were not looking good for the Central until Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Seguin scored two fast back-to-back goals. After Hall scored again for the Pacific, the Central pulled Dubnyk with two minutes left, giving them four skaters. Drew Doughty iced the game with an empty-netter. Roman Josi tacked on a late goal for the Central, but it wasn’t enough, as the Pacific advanced with a 9-6 victory.
It was interesting to see if the play and wait strategy will pay off for the Atlantic or if the Pacific could keep up the pace from their first game. It would appear as though both of those questions wouldn’t be answered in the first half of the final exhibition game, as goalies Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick backstopped both teams to a 0-0 draw after the first 10 minutes. Players from both teams look exhausted. After switching goalies, the Pacific finally got on the board with Corey Perry beat Bishop for a 1-0 lead. Perry would score again, but Taylor Hall bumped into Bishop and the goal is overturned and the Pacific clung to the lead. Bishop was pulled with just over a minute left, but the Pacific would hold on for a 1-0 victory. With two goals, John Scott was named the MVP.
Overall this was a great All-Star game. It was fast and fun to watch. I am used to the boring All-Star games where the players phone in the game and goalies hardly make any attempt to stop the puck. This could be a new era in NHL All-Star games, where winning matters and players can be creative and have fun. I would like to see this format stay.
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