Where’s John Scott when you need him? In this year’s version of the NHL All-Star Game, which lacked the storyline of an enforcer being elected into the game against the wishes of Gary Bettman and the rest of the league’s brass, a familiar watered-down feeling returned for the two Semifinal games, with players coasting around and scoring at will against helpless goaltenders. The Championship was notably more interesting, however, as Alex Ovechkin started blocking shots, Cam Atkinson skated with reckless abandon, and the Metropolitan Division coaching staff, made up of Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey, mixed in a few set plays to create offense for its squad.
Minnesota’s All-Stars, Ryan Suter and Devan Dubnyk, both performed relatively well, but their team got smoked by the Pacific Division in its Semifinal matchup, so they had an early exit from the day’s festivities. Coach Bruce Boudreau could not have been thrilled with his team’s performance, but then again, it’s an exhibition, so… Meh.
If you watched to the end, you actually got rewarded with some semi-exciting hockey in the final ten minutes.
PACIFIC DIVISION VS CENTRAL DIVISION
It was a tough showing by Boudreau’s Central Division All-Stars. The game started slowly… Even perhaps more slowly than the national anthem, as sung by
something called Courtney Daniels, a member of the LA Kings Ice Crew, who replaced Fifth Harmony after the pop group straight-up no-showed! Travesty! While it was a slow rendition, Daniels saved the day and did an admirable job with the anthem, despite having no time to prepare.
P.K. Subban was looking for some slapstick laughs in his first shift, lying on the ice for an extended period to take away the passing lane in the laziest possible way, and then turning his stick upside down to play defense. He was clearly not taking things very seriously in the opening minutes.
Cam Fowler would get the scoring started for the Pacific Division, sliding a one-timer through the legs of a sprawling Corey Crawford. Once that happened, the floodgates were open for the Pacific Division, and it wouldn’t look back. Jeff Carter followed up soon after, scoring in front of his home-town fans at Staples Center, and getting the crowd into the game a bit.
After a couple consecutive minutes of offensive zone time by Drew Doughty, Carter, and Joe Pavelski, the puck skittered out to center ice, where Jonathan Toews picked it up. He certainly didn’t skate full speed, but he had enough space on the ice to enter the zone uncontested and take plenty of time to pick a spot on Mike Smith, the star of last night’s Skills Competition. Toews would choose the top corner over Smith’s glove, finally putting the Central Division on the board with 2:53 left in the first half.
Just six seconds later, Ryan Kesler of the Pacific Division lofted a soft saucer pass that skipped to Conner McDavid, who casually kicked the bouncing puck to his stick and slapped it home over the outstretched pad of Crawford, restoring the Pacific’s two-goal lead. Brent Burns quickly followed that up with a breakaway goal, and the Pacific was officially dominating as it headed to halftime.
Devan Dubnyk entered the game for the second half and quickly made three solid saves to show that he cared a little more than Crawford. He robbed McDavid on a breakaway, then stopped Kesler on a partial breakaway seconds later, and stopped McDavid AGAIN, all in about a two-minute sequence. “Now we know why the Minnesota Wild are one of the best teams in the National Hockey League,” Pierre McGuire quipped from between the benches. Johnny Gaudreau would beat Dubnyk twice, and Pavelski and Bo Horvat would each add goals against the Wild netminder. When it was all said and done, the Pacific Division dominated the Central 10-3, earning a spot in the Championship game.
Boudreau’s squad went very quietly into the night, never really making anyone think that it had a chance or even an interest at getting through to the Championship.
METROPOLITAN DIVISION VS ATLANTIC DIVISION
After some end-to-end action that let Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky flex their muscles a bit, Wayne Simmonds got the scoring started in the second game when he outskated Erik Karlsson to give himself a breakaway, firing a beautiful shot over the shoulder of Price and under the crossbar. Nikita Kucherov leveled the score at 1-1 two minutes later on a spectacular two-on-one passing play with Vincent Trochek, but then Simmonds would pot his second of the game a few minutes later when a loose puck in front of the net landed on his stick. He waited for Price to go down to the ice and chipped it into the top of the net.
Victor Hedman, who must shop for shin pads in the Zdeno Chara section because of his ridiculously long legs, would level the score again for the Atlantic, firing a shot from in close over the glove of Bobrovsky. But with Cam Atkinson, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Seth Jones, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin all scoring goals in the second half for the Metropolitan Division, the final would end up a bit lopsided, as the Metro squad ran away with a 10-6 victory.
Braden Holtby was probably the best player of the second game, robbing Brad Marchand from a few feet out with a sliding glove save and denying a two-on-zero rush seconds later. It was with Holtby in net that the Metropolitan Division finally put some space between itself and the Atlantic, pushing it through to the Championship.
Doc Emrick very comically referred to Nick Jonas as “Nick Jones.” Jonas provided us with a predictably awkward performance in front of a silent Staples Center. Man, if you weren’t enthralled by the Semifinals, Jonas definitely got you amped for the Championship. “I know it’s a little cold in here, but what do you say we heat things up a little?” he announced to the crowd. Oofda.
METROPOLITAN DIVISION VS PACIFIC DIVISION
You could tell that there was money on the line, because the players actually put forth an effort in the Championship. Joe Pavelski picked the Pacific up right where it had left off, scoring on a great forehand-to-backhand move in tight on Bobrovsky, just 22 seconds into the deciding game. Seth Jones quickly tied it for the Metropolitan, though, rifling a snapshot over the blocker of Martin Jones.
Moments later, Bobrovsky made a ridiculous save to keep the game tied at one on Brent Burns, as he sprawled to rob the bearded, toothless wonder, and Faulk immediately scored at the other end on a bizarre goal that hit a Pacific defender, and then literally bounced into the net, with Martin Jones sliding across to the other side, looking to take away a pass. This one wasn’t exactly a highlight reel goal, but it gave the Metropolitan Division the lead nonetheless. McDavid answered with a breakaway goal (this one was a highlight reeler), as he avoided a Bobrovsky pokecheck and slid the puck into a gaping net, making the score 2-2. Horvat would add a goal before the half, to make it 3-2 Pacific.
The second half remained scoreless for four whole minutes, before Kesler finally broke the ice, passing a puck off of Ryan McDonagh’s skate and into the net… Or so we thought. The play was comically challenged by coach Wayne Gretzky and waived off, because McDavid was offside. It was perhaps the first video-reviewed goal in the history of the All-Star Game. My goodness. Then, with Atkinson racing in for the Metro, Mike Smith made a great pad-stacking save, but Atkinson followed his own rebound to tie the game.
At the ensuing faceoff, Hall chipped the puck forward to send himself and Simmonds in on a two-on-one, where Hall set up Simmonds for the Metropolitan’s fourth goal, regaining the lead for his team.
The closing moments were actually be a bit tense, as Holtby made several point-blank saves to maintain the lead for the Metropolitan Division. In the final minute, the Pacific Division had a chance to tie the game with a wide open net, and McDonagh made an unbelievable kick-save to keep his team in the lead. The Metropolitan Division would hold on to win 4-3.
Wayne Simmonds was chosen as the MVP of the All-Star Game, earning himself a new Honda Ridgeline, while the Metropolitan Division skated off with an oversized check for $1 million.