On a day in which the Edmonton Oilers were facing elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs and he was announced as one the three finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, Connor McDavid went out and delivered one of the finest performances of his career. From start to finish, the NHL’s leading scorer was in all-out beast mode, elevating his game to another level and carrying his team along for the ride.
While the Oilers put together arguably their most complete game of their first round series with the Los Angeles Kings, it was the play of their captain that stood out like a sore thumb. McDavid not only led the way on the scoresheet with a goal and a pair of assists, he was on the ice for all four of Edmonton’s goals and was force in all three zones from the moment the puck was dropped.
After being badly out played in four of the previous five opening periods in this series, the Oilers desperately needed to change that narrative heading into Game Six. McDavid wasted little time in doing exactly that. One minute and forty seconds in, on what was already his second shift of the game, the 25-year old took the game by the throat by scoring the opening goal and he never let go.
When the final buzzer sounded, Edmonton had secured a 4-2 win and McDavid finished with an eye-popping 32 shifts on the night. He led all skaters with 24:02 minutes of ice-time, 22:08 of which came at even strength. To put that in perspective, the only guys to see more than 19 minutes at 5-on-5 were defencemen (Cody Ceci and Mikey Anderson) who will typically lead teams in ice-time on most nights.
Jay Woodcroft knew what was at stake and getting his best player on the ice was priority one. Kudos to him for riding his star player all night long and in a perfect world, it’s not an ideal scenario. However, with the situation the Oilers found themselves in, that didn’t matter. This team desperately needed its best player to go out and take charge of the moment and he was more than ready for the challenge.
After watching him single-handedly bring the Oilers back from certain defeat and forcing overtime during the third period of Game Five, the Kings were well aware of what was likely coming their way last night. Unfortunately for them, it made no difference whatsoever. McDavid was a force every time he hit the ice and Los Angeles simply had no answer for him.
To their credit, the Kings fought back from a two-goal deficit to tie things up early in third, which meant they were about to see even more of no. 97 over the final twenty minutes. It genuinely felt as if Woodcroft through him over the boards every other shift and it was just a matter of when and not if the Oilers would regain the lead. It happened with just over five minutes to go and that was all they needed.
Thanks to a late power play opportunity with less than four minutes to play and pulling Jonathan Quick for an extra attacker, the Kings did start to tilt the ice in their favour. In that moment, Edmonton had to settle things down and to the surprise of some, the guy who did it was the same one who dominated the entire game and gets little to no credit for his play in the defensive zone.
With just under two minutes to play, McDavid jumped onto the ice with one purpose in mind. As if stealing the puck off Carl Grundstrom deep in the Oilers end and clearing the zone once wasn’t enough, the best player on the plant tracked back into his end one more time and lifted the stick of Andreas Athanasiou, before finding Evander Kane for an empty netter to seal the deal.
It was the perfect ending to what had been a masterclass performance from McDavid. Be it from the local media or those outside the Edmonton market, taking shots at the four-time Art Ross Trophy winner due to his team’s lack of playoff success, has become a rite of spring for some. Though many of those screaming from trees don’t want to admit, one player can’t do it all but no player is asked to do more.
With twelve points in six playoff games, McDavid finds himself in his usual spot, atop the league scoring race. Some will argue who should win the Hart Trophy for the 2021-22 season but there is no player in the NHL that is more important to their team’s success than this guy is to the Oilers. Voters may or may not come to a different conclusion but in the end, it doesn’t change anything.
Woodcroft arguably summed it up best during his post-game presser, when asked up his captain:
“I can’t say enough about Connor McDavid. His play speaks for itself…it’s otherworldly. “
It really is that simple and for those who either don’t want to recognize it or are just unwilling, you are missing out. McDavid is the kind of player who doesn’t come around too often and taking what he does for granted would be a shame. We should all enjoy it while we can because chances are we won’t see anyone quite like him ever again and that alone makes the here and now a special time in NHL history.