The Eastern Conference may have gotten the upper-hand in yesterday’s Skills Competition, but it was the Western Conference’s Pacific Division that came out the ultimate winner at the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville.
In the new format, which saw a three-on-three mini tournament between the NHL’s four divisions with $1 million on the line, there was some exciting hockey and the fans ultimately got what they wanted.
In the opening game, the Metropolitan Division took on the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference game. The game, which ran one period, was divided into two “halves” of ten minutes each with the teams switching ends of the rink and goalies at the end of the first “half.” Caps goalie Braden Holtby got the start for the Metro opposing Roberto Luongo of the Panthers.
Kris Letang of the Penguins got the scoring started off when he took a pass from Pittsburgh teammate Evgeni Malkin at 1:01 of the first. Erik Karlsson of the Senators tied it up at 3:47. The Metro would take the lead again when Evgeny Kuznetsov (subbing for his injured Washington teammate, Alex Ovechkin) scored at 4:16. The first half ended in a 2-2 tie when the elder statesman, the Panthers’ Jaromir Jagr tied things up with the assist going to teenage rookie Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings.
In the second half, Cory got his moment to shine as he became the fifth Devils’ goaltender to make an appearance in the All-Star Game (following Chico Resch, Sean Burke, Craig Billington and the great Martin Brodeur) and made a few nifty saves. Malkin scored just 25 seconds into half (with assists to Brandon Saad and Cory Schneider, the Devils’ goalie picking up a point in his All-Star debut) to give the Metro the lead again. Cory fired a nice outlet pass up the ice that was able to spring Malkin and led to the goal. But then the offense stalled. The Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad tipped in a Ryan O’Reilly shot to tie things at 2:52 and PK Subban of the Canadiens put the Atlantic into the finals when he beat Schneider at 5:22 of the second half.
Cory’s night was done, having been equal to ten of the twelve shots he saw, but the hockey was just beginning to get interesting.
The Western Conference game gave the NHL what they wanted to see. The Eastern Conference game had been relatively low-scoring, but the game between the Pacific and Central Divisions let it all hang out. The Pacific won 9-6 and the goal scorers included James Neal (Central) with two goals, John Scott (Pacific) and Joe Pavelski (Pacific) scoring a rare (for an All-Star Game) power play goal when Pekka Rinne of the hometown Predators was called for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. New Jersey native and Calgary Flame Johnny Gaudreau scored a goal for the Pacific, and Patrick Kane got one for the Central Division to make it a 3-3 tie at the end of the first half.
The second half was when the floodgates opened. Daniel Sedin scored for the Pacific before Scott, the former Coyote, allowed to play in the game despite being traded to Montreal and sent to the AHL, scored his second goal of the game. Taylor Hall of the Oilers scored the next goal to give the Pacific Division their third straight and to make it 6-3. Daniel Sedin added his second to make it 7-3. The Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien started a bit of a Central rally, making it 7-4 before Tyler Seguin made it 7-5. Hall netted his second of the game at 7:44 to make it 8-5. The Central Division pulled goaltender Devan Dubnyk of the Wild, allowing the Pacific’s Drew Doughty to score an empty netter at 8:45 to seemingly put the game away. But the scoring was not done as the Central added a goal to make it 9-6. This one came from Nashville Predator Roman Josi.
So the final was set: the Pacific versus the Atlantic for $1 million. And as much as the Western Conference portion of the tournament was a free-for-all, the final was a tight, tense defensive battle. Yes, you heard that right. A defensive battle in an NHL All-Star Game!
Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick were perfect in the first half, Luongo facing and grabbing twelve shots and Quick (of the Los Angeles Kings – who will host next year’s All-Star festivities) getting all ten shots he saw.
In the second half, Anaheim’s Corey Perry finally broke through getting assists from Daniel Sedin of the Canucks and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks. It would turn out to be the game winner, beating goalie Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning at 3:38.
The Pacific Division were the inaugural NHL All-Star three-on-three tournament champions and the recipients of the $1 million.
But then things got just a bit weirder. John Scott, the fan voted captain of the Pacific Division when he was playing for the Arizona Coyotes, who was traded in January to the Montreal Canadiens and promptly “buried” with the American League’s St. John’s IceCaps, who scored two goals in the second game of the tournament, was named 2016 NHL All-Star Game MVP by the fans. He received the requisite Honda and a trophy. He also got to get his picture with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman while he was being presented the giant check for his team and was lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates and carried around the ice.
All-in-all, though, the games were good and by all accounts, the events surrounding the games for the fans were good. There were country music stars in attendance, as “celebrity coaches” and in other capacities (Vince Gill performed a duet of “The Star Spangled Banner” with his daughter to kick off the games). Congratulations to the city of Nashville and the Predators for putting on such a great event and let’s hope things run just as well next year in Los Angeles.