Connor McDavid won't let Oilers go down quietly in the Stanley Cup Final

EDMONTON — Connor McDavid left no doubt the Edmonton Oilers would win Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. And with his sublime performance, he continues to leave no doubt that he’s one of the greatest hockey players to ever live.

McDavid took over in the second period on Saturday, notching three of his four points in that frame, a major reason why the Oilers kept their season alive in an 8-1 romp over the Florida Panthers.

Three of those points were assists, which pushed him to 32 helpers in the postseason to break former Oiler Wayne Gretzky’s record set in 1988 — his last of four Cup wins with the team.



Connor McDavid breaks Wayne Gretzky’s record for most assists in a single playoff

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” linemate Zach Hyman said. “I don’t think many people think any of Wayne’s statistics were attainable. He’s The Great One. Connor is putting together one of the best postseasons (ever). He’s the guy that sets everybody up. He’s taken that onus.

“Any time our team’s backs are against the wall, he’s the first guy to push back. For us to come back, he’s got to be the best. He seems to always be the best when we’re in these situations.”

McDavid was made for moments like these. He showed it yet again, helping the Oilers avoid being swept and the Cup being handed out on their home ice.

McDavid did on Saturday what he’s always done: dominate when it matters most.

Think of some of the most pivotal situations over the last three playoff runs. Games 6 and 7 against the Los Angeles Kings two years ago when he was the best player on the ice in back-to-back wins. The overtime winner to knock out the Calgary Flames a series later. While the Oilers have had a ton of players step up on this run, it’s McDavid who’s been their best player overall.

His breathtaking goal and will-turned-skill assist in the first period of the Western Conference final clincher proved that.

“He doesn’t shy away from the moment,” winger Connor Brown said. “You saw that in Game 6 (against Dallas). That’s what true leaders do.

“You can say whatever you want in the room, but true leadership is going out and doing it in the moment. That’s what he does night in, night out. Game 6 when our team was a bit on our heels, he was on his toes. He took over that first period and got us two goals there.”

He did the same thing on Saturday.

It was Brown and Mattias Janmark who kickstarted the offense with the latter’s second short-handed goal of the playoffs in the first period. But it was McDavid who ensured there would be a Game 5 in South Florida on Tuesday. He would not be denied.

McDavid scored his sixth goal this spring after blasting a pass from Hyman blocker side on Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky 1:13 into the second frame. He then dropped a pass for Darnell Nurse, who went top shelf just 3:46 later. Finally, he picked up a secondary helper on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ two-man advantage goal at 13:03.

Game over.

“That’s what the great ones do — they lead. And he’s one of the greats,” Brown said. “He leads with his words. Leads by example. When you need a shift, when you need a play, he pulls it out time and time again.”

The third assist, the record-breaker, came at 14:11 of the third period. McDavid found Dylan Holloway off the rush by the crease, an easy tap-in, for his second goal of the game.

Just like that, McDavid and Gretzky went from being tied to McDavid being ahead.

“Most of Gretzky’s records are considered almost untouchable, and Davo, he’s right there,” Holloway said. “It’s pretty special to watch.”

It’s not lost on Brown, McDavid’s former junior teammate with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters.

“Connor probably won’t admit it, but you’ve got to feel proud about that,” Brown said. “I’ve known Connor for a long time and it’s not an accident. He is the player he is. He works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. Night in, night out he competes as hard as he can. He’s our best player, and he competes the hardest.”

It was McDavid who nearly willed the Oilers back from a three-goal deficit in Game 3. He chipped in two assists in the third period to pull them within one and then found Ryan McLeod in the slot for a glorious chance that Bobrovsky kicked out with his pad.

McDavid was crestfallen after the lost. Only one team in Stanley Cup Final history — the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs — has won four straight games after dropping the first three. The other twenty-seven squads merely wound up as finalists.

Winning is the only thing that matters to McDavid, so, naturally, he wasn’t all that interested in talking about passing Gretzky.

“Obviously not the focus with where we’re at (in the series),” he said, “but (it’s) not lost on me what he means to the game.”

McDavid’s offensive exploits and record-breaking performance grabbed much of the attention. It’s why the Oilers still have championship hopes.

But it was McDavid’s willingness to come to Hyman’s aid during a second-period scrum that showed another layer of him.

Hyman was punched in the back of the head by Bennett during a post-whistle scrum and crumpled to the ice holding his helmet. McDavid immediately went after Bennett, his longtime minor hockey teammate and friend.



Connor McDavid and Sam Bennett: From minor hockey linemates to Stanley Cup Final foes

“It says a lot about him as a leader,” Hyman said.

Panthers pest Matthew Tkachuk then grabbed McDavid and started swinging away at him. The result was roughing minors to Bennett and Tkachuk — a full two-minute, two-man advantage. McDavid chipped in on Nugent-Hopkins’ goal to put the game out of reach.

“That’s not the game I want to play. That’s not my job to really do,” McDavid said. “I’m just there to make sure no one’s getting outnumbered. I thought Hyman was getting doubled up on by Bennett and Tkachuk. I just tried to jump in there and do my part as a teammate. Everybody’s got to jump in there in those moments.”

With McDavid leading the way, the Oilers finally looked like themselves again.

They felt like they deserved a better fate in this series, like they were the better team in two of the first three games despite dropping them all. Yet, they scored just four goals.

On Saturday, they finally got to Bobrovsky and chased him after beating him five times on 16 shots.

McDavid did the most damage. He’s up to 38 points in the playoffs. That’s good for sixth all time. Only Gretzky (four different times) and Mario Lemieux have racked up more points in a given playoff year.

And the assists mark is his — and his alone. What a time to do it.

“You’re in an elimination game. You’re in the final. He just continues to impress everyone,” coach Kris Knoblauch said. “Quite a night for him to set the record.”

The Oilers still have a long way to go. All Saturday represented was one down and three to go if they’re going to win it all.

“Hopefully Zach Hyman can write a storybook about this,” Knoblauch said after the morning skate, a reference to the Oilers’ resident children’s author.

If that were to ever come to fruition, McDavid would surely be the guy wearing the cape — the ultimate hero.

Even with a tremendous supporting cast around him, McDavid is still the one who has the most superpowers. He puts them to good use when danger’s at its highest.

Game 4 was just the latest example of that.

“He truly has come into his own as a good captain,” Brown said. “He’s just getting better and better at being a leader. This is just the start for him.”

(Photo: Dave Sandford / NHLI via Getty Images)

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