CREAM RISES TO THE TOP IN NHL SHOW­CASE

Crosby and Ovie col­lab­o­rate to lead Met­ro­pol­i­tan Di­vi­sion to big money

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS mtraikos@post­media.com twit­ter.com/Michael_Traikos

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.

BRUCE BEN­NETT/GETTY IMAGES

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.

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