By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2008
ATLANTA, Jan. 27 -- The only thing Alex Ovechkin enjoys more than being in the spotlight is scoring goals.
On Sunday, the 22-year-old Washington Capitals left wing got to do a little of both in the NHL All-Star Game at Philips Arena.
Ovechkin became the first player in franchise history to record two goals in the game, helping the Eastern Conference to a back-and-forth 8-7 victory that was decided on a goal by Boston Bruins center Marc Savard with 20.9 seconds remaining.
Ovechkin, in his second all-star game appearance, also became the franchise's career all-star goal leader with three, surpassing Mike Gartner's total of two. Gartner made four all-star appearances.
"I'm good," Ovechkin said, grinning.
With Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin's biggest rival, sidelined with a high ankle sprain, the stage was set for the Washington winger to steal the spotlight and solidify his spot as the game's most exciting player.
He didn't waste the opportunity.
Put on a line with Ottawa center Jason Spezza and Tampa Bay right wing Martin St. Louis, Ovechkin netted both goals in the first period to help the East jump out 5-1 lead after 20 minutes.
But after a furious comeback by Columbus wing Rick Nash (three goals, including the fastest goal in all-star game history) and his Western teammates, who grabbed a 7-6 edge on a goal by Minnesota's Marian Gaborik at 10 minutes 57 seconds of the third period, the East secured the win on late strikes by Carolina's Eric Staal and Savard.
Staal, with a pair of goals and an assist on the winner, captured MVP honors. Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was credited with the victory.
"Even though it's a fun game, we're all competitive and we want to win," Eastern Conference Coach John Paddock said. "I didn't read the rules, so I don't know if it was going to go to overtime or a shootout. I'm just glad we didn't have to find out."
Ovechkin said he was happy to net a pair of goals. But he was proud when Paddock scrambled his lines and pairings so that he could put "The Russian Five" on the ice for two shifts in the third period. The quintet was comprised of forwards Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin and defensemen Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar. It created several scoring chances, but struggled defensively.
"Don't talk about that," Kovalchuk said. "Two shifts and we're a minus two."
Ovechkin said: "It was pretty cool. The fans love it."
Just like last season's game in Dallas, Ovechkin has been the center of attention since arriving here Friday afternoon. But the spotlight was even more intense because of the absence of Crosby as well as goaltender Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, who withdrew for personal reasons.
Ovechkin was easily the most interviewed player, sitting down for sessions with dozens of television networks. During his hour-long media availability on Saturday morning, he was so inundated with questions he missed the bus back to the team hotel.
In addition to the media obligations, Ovechkin also signed hundreds of jerseys, pucks, sticks and other memorabilia and pose for photo shoots and submit to a laser scan of his head, which will used to create an Ovechkin figurine.
Despite the considerable demand on his time, he still managed to have a good time. Ovechkin spent much of his free time hanging out with Kovalchuk.
The longtime friends -- who are 1-2 in the goal scoring race, with Ovechkin two goals ahead with 39 -- caught up over a sushi dinner Saturday night after Ovechkin's dazzling performance in the SuperSkills's Breakaway Challenge event.
"It's always great time to spend time with your friends, your Russian friends," he said.
Ovechkin won the Breakaway Challenge, wowing the crowd with two unsuccessful attempts to bounce a puck up and down on his stick before whacking out of midair past the goalie.
He picked up Sunday right where he left off Saturday night.
Nash scored the first of goals only 12 seconds into the game to put the Western all-stars ahead 1-0 and set the record for the fastest goal in the game's history. The previous record had been held by Detroit's Ted Lindsay, who scored 19 seconds into the 1950 game.
The rest of the opening period, however, belonged to Ovechkin and his teammates.
Staal and Montreal's Markov each tallied to put the East ahead 2-1. Ovechkin's first goal made it 3-1 and was set up by Spezza, who backhanded a pass into the slot where the Ovechkin snapped it over Chris Osgood at 13:35.
The Penguins' Malkin fired a crossing pass to Campbell, whose goal made it 4-1, and Ovechkin sent the East into the first intermission with a 5-1 lead. Osgood denied Ovechkin on back-to-back shots from point-blank range, but the he eventually succeeded on attempt No. 3 after St. Louis sent him a centering pass.
The Western Conference rallied in the second period behind San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabakov (he stopped all eight shots he faced) and on goals by Nash and Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer. Goals by the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf and another by Nash early in the third period completed the comeback.