Marc Savard made Atlanta feel like home all over again.
With hockey luminaries such as Sidney Crosby sitting home, Savard stepped up. The Boston Bruins forward scored the winning goal with 20.9 seconds left Sunday night to lift the Eastern Conference to an 8-7 win over the Western Conference.
Real early it looked as though it would be a night for the West when Rick Nash scored the first of his three goals a record-quick 12 seconds into the game. But the East took charge with five straight, including two by Alex Ovechkin -- Crosby's rival for top player in the NHL.
"We came out a bit slow and they took it to us," Nash said.
In the end, after the West erased a 5-1 deficit to go ahead 7-6, Savard -- a former star for the host Atlanta Thrashers -- brought the local fans out of their seats to cheer for him again.
Leading up, there was much talk about who wouldn't be at the All-Star game. Crosby, the defending NHL MVP and scoring champion pulled out due to a sprained ankle, and starting goalies Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo both withdrew for personal reasons.
That left it wide open for others to grab the attention. Of the 42 players, 15 made their All-Star debuts.
Ovechkin made an early bid, followed by Nash, and even goalie Evgeni Nabokov. In the end it was Savard, known way more for passing the puck than shooting it. The play-making forward, second in the NHL in assists, buried the puck behind first-timer Manny Legace just when it seemed overtime was inevitable.
Carolina's Eric Staal got the East even at 7 with 7:25 left by scoring his second of the night, then helped set up Savard for the winner. His three points were enough to skate off with the MVP award.
"I'll take it," Staal said.
Nash nearly became the fifth straight All-Star MVP winner from the losing side, instead ceding the award to Staal -- whose brother Marc took part in the YoungStars game on Saturday night.
Savard spent parts of three seasons in Atlanta before leaving for Boston as a free agent before last season. The crowd was rooting for current Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk to win it, but happily settled for a former favorite.
Ryan Getzlaf cut the West's deficit to 5-4 41 seconds into the third, and Nash completed his hat trick 1:15 later to tie it.
Marian Hossa of the Thrashers -- for now -- made it 6-5 at 4:08 as the East scored for the first time since the opening period. Hossa was cheered by these fans, but he could be a former Thrasher soon if he can't reach a new deal with Atlanta before next month's trade deadline.
It sure didn't look as though it would be an Eastern Conference day when Nash set an All-Star game record with the first goal of the 15th All-Star hat trick.
You can forgive New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro for that one as he was answering a television interviewer's question about the hip injury he sustained the night before in the skills competition as Nash raced his way.
The hip was fine, the attention span was a bit lax.
No worries. In this game of few whistles and fewer checks, the All-Stars skated freely and creatively. That didn't help Kovalchuk, who was stopped twice in the final 1:03 of the second period by San Jose's Nabokov.
Kovalchuk was parked in the slot and fired a one-timer that was labeled for the top right corner when Nabokov snatched it with a stabbing glove as he fell to the seat of his pants. Kovalchuk dropped to his back -- snow angel style -- in exasperation.
He tapped the goalie on the helmet when he got up, then set his aim on him again. Sent in on a breakaway with a long lead pass, Kovalchuk streaked toward the net as the final seconds of the period ticked off.
Kovalchuk let go a low shot that Nabokov met with a double stack of his pads. The puck slid safely away, Kovalchuk threw his stick to the ice and the Russian forward gave it a kick as he quickly headed to the tunnel.
"He's quick for a small guy," Kovalchuk said with a smile.
It might not have been so bad if not for the two stops Chris Osgood made on him in the first.
Staal answered Nash's early haymaker with one of his own 1:20 into the game to tie it at 1 and set the East's offense in motion.
Ovechkin's second, off a perfect feed from Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis, was scored from right in front of the crease into an empty net to make it 5-1 with 2:11 remaining in the first.
Hard-hitting Phaneuf let Ovechkin stay there without hassle, and five-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom gave him a halfhearted tug from behind with his stick.
The second period belonged to the West and the goalies.
Nabokov stopped all eight shots he faced, while Florida's Tomas Vokoun made 18 saves in 20 attempts as the East's lead was cut to 5-3.