All-Star games are what they are. They serve no real purpose other than to give fans the excitement of seeing the stars of any particular sport all in one arena half goofing off, half playing to win. When baseball tried to up the ante with home field advantage in the World Series going to the winner of the All-Star game many people panned that decision and it was quickly removed from the mid-summer classic.
The NHL’s version of getting players to try a little harder in the event is to put a $1 million prize for the winning team…..to split among each player. Having millionaires take home a little over $90,000 might be a tough sell to try harder - though it’s not a bad pay day for rookies on an entry-level contract like Miro Heiskanen.
One thing an All-Star game always has the potential of doing is opening up some smaller market teams and players to the masses and give people an opportunity to watch a player not named Crosby or McDavid.
The Colorado Avalanche may benefit from this year’s All-Star game by getting more casual hockey fans to witness the incredibly talent of the players in the Centennial State.
With Nathan MacKinnon delegated to spectator, his linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog - both taking part in their first All-Star games - were on full display during the 2019 All-Star game in San Jose and they wasted no time introducing themselves to the mid-season exhibition game.
Game 1: Semifinal - Central vs. Pacific
Mikko Rantanen was on the ice for about five seconds before he started the Central scoring onslaught. Coming on the ice from the games first shift change when the puck was deep in the Pacific zone, Rantanen easily moved in front of goaltender John Gibson, took a pass from (former Avalanche Ryan O’Reilly) and lifted it in for the games first score.
Thirty seconds after Rantanen got the Central on the board, Gabriel Landeskog took his turn with the first of what would be four points from the Avs captain. In similar fashion to how Mikko scored his first goal, Landeskog found his way in front of Gibson and, just like Rantanen, was fed a pass by O’Reilly which he collected and shot over the right shoulder to give the Central a 2-0 lead.
Playing 3-on-3, things can happen quickly and a team can go from defense to offense quicker than a Thanos snap.
For Rantanen’s second score of the game that’s just what happened, and teammate Landeskog was the one to turn the tide. Roman Josi took the puck away from Conner McDavid, gave it to Landeskog off to his right, Gabe looked up and saw Mikko at center ice, backhanded a perfect pass and Mikko fired a wrist shot over the shoulder of Gibson.
Less than a minute into the 2nd period, Dubnyk kicked aside a shot attempt from Conner McDavid and Roman Josi quickly moved the puck up ice to Landeskog who took a lazer of a wrist shot from the left side face off circle and went high far side over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury who never saw the puck sail past him. If you thought that was an impressive score you only had to wait a few more minutes before seeing same nifty handy work by the captain.
With less than six minutes left in the game, Landeskog received an outlet pass from Blake Wheeler and had nothing but ice and the goalie in front of him. With all the time in the world, Landy took the opportunity to pay homage to Avalanche legend Peter Forsberg as he was able to pull off Foppa’s infamous ‘postage stamp’ move from the 1994 Olympics.
An in-game tribute to the most important goal in Swedish hockey history - the way only our captain can.
The difficulty and skill required for a move like that is off the charts and to be able to pull it off with the speed and accuracy the captain did was something to watch. Not only did that cap the Central’s scoring at 10 goals, but it also gave Landeskog a hat trick on the evening.
In the end the Central dominated the Pacific 10-4, and our Colorado Avalanche were responsible for a total of seven points. Three goals and an assist for Landeskog, two goals and an assist for Rantanen.
Nathan Mackinnon might not have been available to play in the All-Star game, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have an impact. Standing with the coaching staff and wearing his All-Star jersey, Mackinnon was more vocal of a coach than the actual coaches. He was interviewed mid game and Ryan O’Reilly didn’t waste the moment to interrupt the interview to tell Jeremy Roenick how awful of a coach he was. It seemed as the games went on the more comfortable MacKinnon got behind the bench, as we will see with the Game 2 final.
Game 2: Final - Central vs. Metropolitan
Maybe it was sitting around for so long and taking some time to get back into some sort of flow, but what the Central did to the Pacific squad in game 1 was turned around and done to them by the Metro in the final.
Before you could blink the Central found themselves down 2-0 on goals by Mathew Barzal and Claude Giroux. They added another 3:40 seconds in, another at 8:16 and a fifth by Sidney Crosby with five seconds left to give the Metro division a 5-0 lead at the end of the first.
The Central of course had scoring chances but some great goaltending by Henrik Lundqvist shut down several chances and the Central would need a big 2nd period to try and pull off the victory.
The Central was able to score the first two goals of the final period thanks to goals from Landeskog and Rantanen, respectively. Landeskog’s came from a 2 on 1 with O’Reilly who fed Gabe a cross ice pass. Landeskog waited patiently for his time to strike and he did with a wrister that got past Braden Holtby.
Rantanen’s goal came from a beautiful saucer pass from behind the goalie by Roman Josi that Mikko one-timed right into the back of the net. This brought the game to 5-2 with 6:35 left and the Central finally making some waves.
Those waves would prove to be no more than a ripple as the Metro team ripped off three goals of their own. The Avalanche Duo were able to record another two points each, but in the end the Metro team would sail to a 10-5 victory.
Again, Nathan MacKinnon would make his presence felt behind the bench. It was his idea to pull goalie Pekka Rinne with more than 3 minutes to go in an attempt to get the Central back in the game. This decision proved to backfire as the Metro team scored rather easily to take back control of the game. You could tell MacKinnon was half having fun with this new position, but you could still see that competitive drive in him and it was as if he was taking this new ‘coaching’ role seriously. It might have only been an All-Star game, but Nathan MacKinnon wanted his coaching record in All-Star gamesto be 1-0.
In the end, while the game doesn’t mean much, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon represented the franchise extremely well.
Landeskog would finish with four goals and three assists. Mikko Rantanen would have four goals of his own as well as two assists. Thirteen total points across two shortened games is a heck of an accomplishment. This 3 on 3 format has been around for four years now and the Central Division had never made it to the final until this year. It’s hard to argue that the two Avalanche trio had a lot to do with that.
Sidney Crosby would be named the game MVP in the end with a total of 8 points (4g, 4a), but it wouldn’t be too far out of bounds to say that if the Central team had found a way to win one of the players representing the Avs would have taken that award.
Okay, fun time is over. Now back to Denver and get ready for that playoff stretch.