Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NHL All-Star 2008 [Print without images]

Sunday, January 27, 2008
Canes' Staal takes MVP honors after posting two goals, assist

Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Eric Staal wanted to make the Atlanta fans happy by setting up a shot for hometown favorite Ilya Kovalchuk.

Winning MVP

Carolina's Eric Staal won the MVP award on Sunday and broke a strange trend. The previous four All-Star MVPs had come from the losing team. He was on the winning Eastern Conference squad.

Year
Player, Team
Conf.
2008 Eric Staal, CAR East
2007 Daniel Briere, BUF East
2004 Joe Sakic, COL West
2003 Dany Heatley, ATL East
2002 Eric Daze, CHI North Amer.

Instead, Kovalchuk returned the pass and helped Staal put the finishing touches on a memorable performance in Sunday night's NHL All-Star Game.

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 shots.

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 left.

"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 role.

"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 MVP award.

"I guess they wanted someone from the winning side. I was fortunate to be the one called up there, a little surprised, but obviously glad."

Winning the MVP might have been the easiest part of Staal's weekend.

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.