Mike Liut is the best goaltender in hockey, the principal reason the St. Louis Blues are just one point out of first place in the National Hockey League. Liut provided a sample of his brilliance tonight, stopping all 25 shots that came his way as the Campbell Conference won the 33rd NHL All-Star Game, 4-1.
Liut earned most valuable player honors and a new car, while the Campbells snapped a jinx dating back to 1975. This was their first victory over the Prince of Wales Conference in six meetings since the new format was devised.
"I came in here just hoping to get out alive and not embarrass myself," Liut said. "I was out of position a couple of times and they missed. Anytime you have shutout hockey you have to get some breaks. Twenty-five shots isn't that hard. We had good coverage in front of the net and nobody was coming in to whack in rebounds."
"The goalie was the difference," said the losing coach, Scotty Bowman. "We had some pretty good shots I thought might be goals, but they were stopped."
The Campbells grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Kent Nilsson of Calgary and Bill Barber of Philadelphia. Liut was brilliant, blocking all 18 shots fired at him by the offensive-minded Wales team. The Campbells beat Minnesota goalie Don Beaupre of Minnesota on two of their nine shots.
The sellout crowd of 16,005 defied All-Star traditions of neutrality by directing thunderous boos at the five Philadelphia players and Coach Pat Quinn during the pregame introductions. Naturally, there was loud applause for the host Kings' Triple Crown Line of Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer, as the trio was introduced as a unit.
The Triple Crowners were somewhat embarrassed as they yielded a goal after just 45 seconds. Barber carried the puck into the Wales zone, where defenseman Reed Larson of Detroit tapped it away. Larson, however, sent it right onto the stick of Nilsson in the left-wing circle and he had a clear target.
The game's first penalty, to the Islanders' Bob Bourne for hooking, backfired on the Wales club, which saw a power-play opportunity become a shorthanded Campbell goal.
Eddie Johnstone of the New York Rangers got by Larson, then fired a pass toward the slot. It struck Barber and caromed past Beaupre at 8:02 for the 2-0 margin.
Liut stopped breakaways by Rick Middleton of Boston and Peter Stastny of Quebec. He also blocked a closein shot by Taylor, then foiled Simmer's rebound attempt.
Liut and Beaupre departed at 11:43 of the second period. At that point, the Campbells had been outshot, 25-11, but they still led, 2-0.
In more than two minutes before the goalie switch, the Wales team controlled the puck without a whistle and Liut made four saves, including a remarkable stop on Taylor, set up in close by Simmer.
It was fitting that Liut left to tremendous applause, although most of it was directed at the incoming Wales goalie, Mario Lessard of Los Angeles. During that long sustained play, which carried past the midpoint of the game, many in the crowd were chanting, "We want Lessard."
The Campbells boosted their lead to 3-0 at 16:12 of the second period, with last-minute substitute Wayne Babych of St. Louis posting the goal. The Blues' Bernie Federko started the play from behind the Wales net, passing to Johnstone in the left-wing circle. His quick pass found Babych free in front.
Washington's Mike Gartner, who had a promising early drive from the slot blocked by defender Robert Picard of Toronto and later had a long shot handled by Lessard, sent Bourne in on a breakaway with a chance to wrap up the game, but Lessard stopped it.