Ovechkin's dazzling goals spark East's win at SuperSkills event
ATLANTA -- Alex Ovechkin's move was a little bit baseball, a little bit hockey.
It was a big whiff -- but still a big hit.
Ovechkin flipped the puck off his stick, took a mighty swing and missed. Ilya Kovalchuk attempted a shot while sliding along on his knees. Marian Gaborik swooped behind the net and tried to stuff one inside the post.
None of them scored.
That wasn't the point.
The final event of the NHL's SuperSkills competition was all about showing off -- hockey's version of the slam-dunk contest -- and the league's most creative players unveiled some one-night-only moves Saturday night.
The Eastern Conference rallied for a 9-6 victory over the West in this preview to the All-Star Game, but no one really cared about the score. Heck, even the NHL had it wrong for a while before switching a point from one side to the other.
Ovechkin, who recently agreed to a 13-year, $124 million megacontract with Washington, did his best to show he was worth all that money.
After his first swing and a miss, the 22-year-old Russian tried an even bolder move. He scooped the puck off the ice, flipped it into the air, did a complete spin and took another baseball swing.
Strike two, but he still drew big points from the celebrity panel that included former slam-dunk champion Dominique Wilkins, now an executive with the Atlanta Hawks, retired Thrashers captain Scott Mellanby, broadcaster Bill Clement, and actor Taylor Kitsch.
Ovechkin wasn't the only East player taking individual honors in the skills competition. Toronto's Tomas Kaberle was the most accurate shooter and Boston's Zdeno Chara fired the hardest shot at 103.1 mph before Ovechkin took the breakaway challenge, a shootout with a twist.
Scoring didn't really matter. One was going for style points.
"It was a baseball move and a little bit of hockey," Ovechkin said. "I like it, but I didn't score. I'm disappointed."
Fancy shooting by New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro helped the East win the obstacle course, the first competition. He capped the second round by shooting two pucks the length of the ice into the net.
Later, while trying to stop Gaborik's around-the-net move, DiPietro tweaked his hip and spent the rest of the competition watching.
"You sit around for that long and try to come out there and throw the splits around and everything else, it's a little hard on the body," he said. "But I feel all right."
DiPietro, who had hip surgery last May, insisted he'll be able to play in Sunday's game.
Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff won the fastest skater competition for the Western Conference, beating Kovalchuk to earn a spot in the final against Buffalo's Brian Campbell, who opened by winning a sprint against Chicago's Duncan Keith.
Horcoff got a great start in the final and won by nearly a half-second.
There appeared to be some confusion in the judging for the Horcoff-Kovalchuk race. The hometown favorite clearly beat Horcoff from the goal line to the opposite blue line, and the Atlanta forward lined up for an apparent rematch as fans chanted "Kovy! Kovy!"
Ultimately, there was no rematch and Horcoff was ruled the winner.
Calgary's Dion Phaneuf saved the West in the elimination shootout. Phaneuf was the only one of his conference's shooters to score in the first three rounds, and the New York Rangers' Scott Gomez, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen advanced from the East.
In the elimination round, however, Phaneuf scored against Boston goalie Tim Thomas, who was left spinning like a top in front of the net. St. Louis goalie Manny Legace stopped Gomez, Malkin and Timonen, giving the win to Phaneuf and the Western stars.
Kaberle was the East's champion in shooting accuracy, hitting targets on eight of nine shots through three rounds. In the last round, Kaberle obliterated the bulls-eye with his one shot after Nashville's Jason Arnott -- the top shooter from the West -- missed.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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