CREAM RISES TO THE TOP IN NHL SHOWCASE
Crosby and Ovie collaborate to lead Metropolitan Division to big money
There was no John Scott at the all-star game this year. But as far as secondary acts go, Sid and Ovie were pretty darn good.
For one night, the two longtime rivals became teammates for Team Metropolitan, with head coach Wayne Gretzky making sure Crosby and Ovechkin were on the ice together as much as possible.
It was a smart move, both from an entertainment and competitive standpoint as the Metropolitan Division defeated the Pacific Division 4-3 in the championship game of the three-on-three tournament, the highlight of the weekend’s all-star festivities at the Staples Center in L.A.
Though Crosby and Ovechkin didn’t record a point in the final, the two showed they could play nice together with Crosby feeding Ovechkin at the side of the net for a goal in an earlier game.
“I was trying to find him,” Crosby said. “I know how great his shot is. I’m sure he’s a little hesitant to use it in case he hits somebody here, but yeah, I was just trying to make the most of the opportunity. That’s a unique opportunity when you’re playing against one another, so it’s fun to try and set him up.”
Said Ovechkin: “It’s all about fun. This is the time of the year where you relax … and you try to have fun.”
So, are the rivals now buddies? “Best friends,” Ovechkin said. “As I’ve always said.”
Crosby and Ovechkin were not the only two players who went from rivals to friends.
Last week, Anaheim Ducks centre Ryan Kesler cross-checked Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid in the ribs and pestered him on every shift. On Sunday, the two embraced after McDavid scored on a pass from Kesler.
“It’s a unique situation,” McDavid said. “One night you hate him, and the next night, you’re buddies. I don’t know how it works.”
Said Kesler: “He’s a good kid and he’s a special player. It was fun to play with him tonight — a lot more fun (than against him).”
Don Cherry ripped the all-star game on Sunday because the players are “not even trying.” But compared to the traditional alternative, which the league abandoned after the 2015 game in Columbus, the three-on-three format is a favourite with players.
The first two games were blowouts, with the teams combining for 13 and 16 goals. But with US$1 million on the line for the final between the Metropolitan and Pacific stars, the competition picked up, with Ryan McDonagh sliding in the crease to block a shot and Gretzky challenging a goal because of an offside.
“That final game, seeing how it can ratchet up at the end … it felt more like a real game,” Crosby said. “Guys were blocking shots and things like that. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it, because as players we were really into it.”
Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews almost had to pinch himself when he lined up against Crosby on the opening face-off of the all-star game. It was a nice moment, but it didn’t exactly last long.
“He was cheating hard,” Matthews said, smiling. “And then he took the puck and he was flying down the ice. I told (Brad Marchand) after the shift, ‘These guys are going hard.”
Matthews, who grew up about five hours from Los Angeles, gave the crowd something to cheer about when he scored in their loss against the Metropolitan Division. Taking a pass in the slot, a wide-open Matthews had all the time in the world to pick the top corner on goalie Braden Holtby.
“I got back to the bench and Carey (Price) actually looked at me and said, ‘It would be nice if it was that easy in a game,’” he said.
Though it was an all-star game, Montreal’s Shea Weber didn’t exactly have the day off from his defensive responsibilities. Canadiens head coach Michel Terrien was threatening to sit anybody who didn’t backcheck.
Weber avoided his head coach’s scorn, but the same cannot be said of Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, who was caught pinching for two breakaway goals against.
“Thankfully, I wasn’t out there for that or coach would have been all over me,” Weber said. “He was giving Erik a hard time out there, especially at the start. He said he was going to sit him before he scored that goal. It was pretty funny.’’
Karlsson’s response: The coach made a bad line change.
“Yeah, he’s witty,” Weber said, laughing.
Dallas Stars centre Tyler Seguin said he’s a big fan of the three-on-three all-star format and wouldn’t mind it if the league extended overtime by another five minutes to avoid more games being decided by a shootout. Of course, it might not be totally necessary for Stars games.
“We’ve had one shootout game in the last 88 or 87 games,” he said. “We just set a record. So I think the three-on-three is working. So many games are ending that way.”
The problem for the Stars is that the game are ending badly, with the team 2-9 in overtime.
Metropolitan captain Sidney Crosby carries the puck in an all-star tournament match against the Atlantic Division on Sunday in Los Angeles. Crosby scored his first all-star point in the game.