Instead, Kovalchuk returned the pass and helped Staal put the
finishing touches on a memorable performance in Sunday night's NHL
Staal won the most valuable player award, finishing with two
goals and an assist in the Eastern Conference's 8-7 win over the
Western Conference. The Carolina Hurricanes center helped set up
Marc Savard's winning goal with 20.9 seconds left.
Staal paid tribute to Kovalchuk afterward even though the
Thrashers star, playing before his home fans, was stopped on six
Atlanta fans chanting Kovalchuk's name were eager to see him
score with the West leading 7-6 in the third period. Staal said he
was trying to give the crowd what it wanted, but Kovalchuk sent the
puck back to him for the tying goal during a two-on-one with 7:25
"Anytime you go down the ice with Ilya, he's one of those
players who has such a great shot that the goalie kind of knows
that," Staal said. "I just moved to him right away and tried to
move to get him that goal. He made a great pass back to me and he
kind of fooled both the goalie and the defenseman. I just looked up
and saw empty net, and it was a nice play by him."
Kovalchuk said he knew everyone, including West goalie Manny Legace, would be expecting him to take the shot.
"I think everybody in the building thinks I'm going to shoot
it," Kovalchuk said. "So yeah, it was a pretty nice play. I think
fans love those kind of things. It's all about them."
Kovalchuk said he didn't mind setting up Staal for the starring
"He's a great player, no question about it," Kovalchuk said.
"It's one of those games where you don't care who you play with,
you know they're all good, they're all the best. So he is one of
those guys who I really enjoy to play with."
Staal ended a streak of MVP honors going to players on the
losing team four straight years. Rick Nash, who had three goals for
the West, and Alexander Ovechkin, who had two goals for the East, also
were strong contenders.
"I think the fact we won and I was on the ice when we won and
had the last goal gave me a good shot at it," Staal said of the
"I guess they wanted someone from the winning side. I was
fortunate to be the one called up there, a little surprised, but
Winning the MVP might have been the easiest part of Staal's
Now the tough decision: What does Staal do with the new car that
came with the trophy?
Does Staal give the car to younger brother Jordan Staal, in his second
year as a center for the Pittsburgh Penguins? Or does he pass the
keys to Marc, in his first year as a defenseman for the New York Rangers? How about baby brother Jared, 17, who is playing in the
Ontario Hockey League?
"I was saying to the guys on the ice if I do give it to my
parents I'd be the favorite of the family, a least for a little
while," Staal said.
Staal scored one goal in his All-Star debut last year.
Staal is the first Hurricanes player to be selected for the
All-Star team in consecutive years since the franchise moved from
Hartford to Carolina.
Staal may be best known for his endurance in Carolina. He played
in his 218th consecutive game for the Hurricanes on Jan. 10,
matching the second-longest streak in franchise history.
Staal scored the East's first goal, shortly after Nash made NHL
history by scoring only 12 seconds into the game. Staal converted
from the right circle 1:20 into the game, tying it at 1.