|Atlanta fans cheered once more for Marc Savard (91), and were joined by Eric Staal, after the former Thrasher potted the winner. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)|
ATLANTA - It was all special, Marc Savard admitted.
All weekend, the first-time All-Star and ex-Thrasher sat at his old stall at Philips Arena - turn left into the hallway, hook a right into the dressing room, first locker on the right - thanks to Atlanta assistant equipment manager Joe Guilmet.
The Bruins center reunited with former teammates Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. Savard met up with Don Waddell, the Atlanta general manager and Eastern Conference assistant coach who had acquired him from Calgary Nov. 15, 2002.
Savard, a late replacement for Ottawa's Dany Heatley, skated on a line with Kovalchuk, nearly setting up his former wingman for a second-period goal.
And oh yeah, with the score tied at 7-7, Savard potted the winning goal at 19:39 of the third period to give the Eastern Conference an 8-7 victory before 18,644 at his old rink.
"They'd been booing me all weekend," said Savard, who left Atlanta as a free agent after 2005-06, his most prolific NHL season, to sign with Boston. "So it was nice to get that reward at the end."
But what he'll take away from the weekend - perhaps something he'll remember when hockey is long gone and he's spending his days on the golf course - is the time he spent with Isabella, Zachary, and Tyler, his three young children.
Savard's children live in the Toronto area. After games against the Maple Leafs, the kids often make their way through the visitors' room, where their father shows them around and introduces them to his teammates. But for most of the season, Savard and his children remain apart.
"It's tough for sure," Savard said of not seeing his kids. "When you do get to see them, you get to cherish the moments you have together."
This weekend, however, Savard's children joined him in Atlanta. Last night, during pregame introductions when Savard stood on the blue line, he turned around and waved to his kids, who were sitting behind the net. Then Savard and his Eastern teammates proceeded to put five first-period pucks behind Detroit's Chris Osgood, wiping out a 1-0 lead for the West when Columbus's Rick Nash scored only 12 seconds into the game, the fastest strike in All-Star Game history.
The Islanders' Rick DiPietro was on the wrong end of Nash's historic goal, but the Winthrop, Mass., native, who struggled in New York's 4-1 loss to the Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden Thursday night, stopped all 12 shots that followed. While the East offense laid the five-spot on Osgood, the defense was airtight in front of DiPietro, playing a smothering style that would have prompted Bruins coach Claude Julien to weep for joy.
The West kicked off its comeback in the second period, as Nash and Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer pumped shots past Florida's Tomas Vokoun, making it a 5-3 game. At the other end, Savard nearly connected with Kovalchuk - the ex-teammates came close to trading punches during a 5-3 Boston win Dec. 12 - late in the second period when he found the winger for a slot shot.
But San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov snatched Kovalchuk's shot at 18:57, a save that caused the Thrasher to fall backward to the ice in disbelief. Then in the final ticks of the period, Nabokov stacked his pads to stuff Kovalchuk's breakaway. This time, Kovalchuk tossed his stick aside as he went back to the dressing room.
"I was trying to find Kovy all night," said Savard.
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas took over the crease in the third period and was quickly scored upon by Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, just 41 seconds into his night. Then Nash scored his third goal to tie the game at 1:56. The squads traded goals - Atlanta's Marian Hossa, Calgary's Dion Phaneuf, Minnesota's Marian Gaborik, and Carolina's Eric Staal recording the strikes - to make it 7-7, with overtime looming.
But Buffalo's Brian Campbell, stickhandling at the right circle, spotted Savard open in the slot. Savard, usually the disher, took Campbell's feed and flipped a soft shot - his teammates kidded him that it was one of his trademark saucer passes - that floated over the blocker of St. Louis's Manny Legace at 19:39.
And who was sitting behind the net Savard scored upon? His children, who took ownership of a signed puck from their father's goal in the minutes following the game.
"Something I'll never forget. I'm sure they won't either," said Savard. "It's a special time we got to share together as a family."