NHL

Two Panthers chances to clinch the Stanley Cup, two superior games by Connor McDavid

Two Panthers chances to clinch the Stanley Cup, two superior games by Connor McDavid

Two ways to know how good Edmonton center Connor McDavid has been in these playoffs and, in particular, Games 4 and 5 of the Stanley Cup Final:

▪ His two-goal, two-assist night in Edmonton’s 5-3 win Tuesday at Amerant Bank Arena gave him 42 playoff points this year, fourth on the all-time list of points in a single NHL playoff year behind Wayne Gretzky (47, 1984-85, 43, 1987-88) and Mario Lemieux (44, 1990-91). You know, arguably The Greatest Player in NHL History and arguably The Best Player in NHL History.

“Any time I’m compared or in the same realm as those two it’s always a good thing,” McDavid said. “But, I love playing in the playoffs. I love playing with this group and it’s not possible without everybody. It’s been a fun ride. It’s going to go one more day. That’s all we’ve earned here is another day to play.”

▪ McDavid’s three-point second period Tuesday meant he’d done something that nobody had done before, not Gretzky, not Lemieux, not Bobby Orr, whom McDavid resembled in his scintillating slithering setup of Corey Perry’s goal.

Before Tuesday, only Montreal winger Bernie Geoffrion (Game 6, 1955 and Game 4, 1959) and Chicago Hall of Fame center Stan Mikita (Game 5s in 1961 and 1973) had two three-point periods in the Stanley Cup Final. McDavid joined them, but he’s the only one to do it in the same year and consecutive games at that.

“It’s ridiculous. I’m just happy he’s on our team,” said Connor Brown, who had the only Edmonton goal that didn’t come off a McDavid shot or pass. “It’s unbelievable what he’s doing. It’s one thing to do it game 50 in the regular season, but to do it in a Cup Final, season on the line and make the kind of plays he’s making that nobody else can, it’s fun to watch.”

With Edmonton up 1-0 on Brown’s first period shorthanded goal after swiping an atrocious defenseman-to-defenseman pass by Brandon Montour, Panthers defenseman Niko Mikkola took an interference penalty as the first period ended. At 1:58 of the second, McDavid fed defenseman Evan Bouchard just above the circles for a rip that Zach Hyman deflected in for a 2-0 lead.

Just 3:02 later, McDavid saw Warren Foegele create a turnover on the low left boards, zoomed up, took Foegele’s pass and fired a shot through one of the small spaces Sergei Bobrovsky left.

“I don’t want to give away too much, there’s still hockey to be played, but coming in on that side of the goal I’ve gone short side lots,” McDavid said. “I would say most people know that I look there. he was standing. [Hyman] is always around the net so I tried to put it there and it found a way in.”

The 3-0 lead got cut to 3-1 by Matthew Tkachuk’s goal and the Panthers snatched momentum until Kyle Okposo took a penalty to put Edmonton back on the power play. In the same building in which Edmonton took him first overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, McDavid made the kind of play Oilers fans began dreaming that day they would see him make in a Stanley Cup Final.

McDavid hit the Panthers line, accelerated around Panthers penalty killing forward Eetu Luostarinen with an Orr-esque shiftiness, then slalomed through Mikkola and Dmitry Kulikov served up a tap-in to 39-year-old Corey Perry.

“I’m in that position a lot going back for pucks, breakout, bringing it in the zone, so it’s something that I look at a lot how certain guys are playing things,” McDavid said. “Mikkola has a really long reach, and I just tried to work my way through there, and Pers did a great job of working it backdoor.”

Sunrise, Florida, June 18, 2024 – Edmonton Oilers right wing Corey Perry (90) receives a pass from Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) in front on the Panthers goal to score goal #4 for the Oilers

After Tkachuk desperately saved an empty-netter, McDavid garnered the rebound and fired it home to send everyone home and the series back to Edmonton.

“He just puts us on his back, the guy is the best in the world,” Edmonton defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “There’s just nothing else you can say about him. What I’m most impressed about with him is the bigger the moment, the bigger the performance he puts on. We’re on the brink of elimination and he puts up four points two games in a row. That’s just him in a nutshell.”

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