Connor McDavid stepping up and dominating on the big stage in these playoffs

“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.”

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Wayne Gretzky says he was always relaxed going into a big game, never really nervous because, as Gretzky said in the wonderful 2018 “In Search of Greatness” documentary, his dad Walter told him over and over again to treat hockey pressure like an exam — if you’ve done the work, prepared, studied, are ready for it, no problem.

“You’re like, ‘alright, where is it (exam)?’” said Gretzky

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Same story with Connor McDavid, who has eight points in the last two elimination games. He’s the first player ever to do that in the Stanley Cup Final, and now has 42 points this post-season.

Only Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have ever had more points.

On the biggest stage today, McDavid is the biggest player.

And, like Gretzky, there is a certain ho-hum to how McDavid goes about doing what he does things. Like Gretzky blasting that slapper high and past Mike Vernon in the 1988 Calgary Flames series. Like McDavid’s two plays in the second period of Game 5 in Florida, which when asked what he saw on those plays post-game he first offered up one of those aw-shucks shrugs before analyzing both.

The first where he cheekily banked one in on Sergei Bobvrosky, who suddenly looks human, giving up 11 goals on the Oilers last 46 shots, and the second when dog-tired after being out for 1:52 of a two-minute power play, he skated 190 feet, sashaying through three Panthers players, before casually sending a pass across the crease to Corey Perry for a tap-in.

“I don’t want to give away too much (off Bobrovsky and in), there’s still hockey to be played,” McDavid told the media in Florida. “But coming in on that side of the goal I’ve gone short side lots.”

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Indeed he has. He’s banked a few shots off goalie helmets, like he did against his former teammate, and Los Angeles Kings goalie Cam Talbot earlier this year. In this case, Bobrovsky wasn’t down, his skate jammed to the post. He was old-style, upright, on his feet. Mistake.

“I would say most people know that I look there (for the shot). He was standing,” said McDavid, who knew if he didn’t score, there might be a rebound for Zach Hyman.

“Zach’s always around the net so I tried to put it there. It found a way in.”

And the dazzling assist on Perry’s goal was reminiscent of the highlight-reel goal he scored against the New York Rangers in 2021, when he weaved through four Rangers players and then beat Rangers goalie Alexander Georgiev.

This time, in Florida, it was only one-on-three for McDavid and then the feed to Perry to get his first playoff goal as an Oiler, as Bobrovsky looked on helplessly.

“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,” he said.

“Mikkola has a really long reach… I just tried to work my way through that, and Perrs (Perry), he did a great job working to get to back-door on the play,” said McDavid.

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When McDavid ripped one into the empty net for his fourth point, past Matthew Tkachuk, after Tkachuk had just dived to keep Hyman’s sliding effort from going in, the goal gave him 42 points this postseason, which put him in that rarefied air with Gretzky and Lemieux.

Conn Smythe favourite

Win or lose this final, the Conn Smythe trophy is now McDavid’s; nobody’s taking that way from him.

If the Oilers wind up winning and becoming the first team since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs to come back from an 0-3 hole in the Stanley Cup Final, McDavid will have the playoff MVP trophy as a tidy bookend to the Stanley Cup trophy.

If the Oilers don’t finish this journey, McDavid will be the first skater on a losing team to get the award since Flyers Reggie Leach in 1976 when he had a post-season record 19 goals.

Gretzky had 43 playoff points in 1988, before he left the Oilers for Los Angeles. Lemieux had 44 in 1991 when the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup. Gretzky had 47 in 1985, the Oilers second Cup victory.

How does he feel about that?

“I seem to be getting this question a lot. Any time I’m compared or in the same realm as those two it’s always a good thing,” he said.

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“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.”

Hyman said his teammates continue to push hard behind McDavid’s play on the ice.

But eight points in the last two elimination final series games?

That’s a first.

‘Connor being Connor’

“He continues to drive the bus for us,” said Hyman, who got his 15th playoff goal when Evan Bouchard’s blast from the point drilled him on the shin-pad and past Bobrovsky.

“It’s just Connor being Connor, elevating his game at the most important time. We’re not here without him.”

Connor Brown, who struggled to find his footing during the regular season, has stepped up in the playoffs, and come alive against Florida has enjoyed watching his former teammate in junior dominate in the playoffs.

“Just happy he’s on our team. It’s one thing to do what he’s doing in game 50 (regular-season),” said Brown in a happy Oiler dressing room.

“But to be doing this in the Cup Final, season on the line, making the plays he’s making, nobody else can do that. That’s why he’s the best player on the planet.”

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