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Even on his ‘ugly’ night, McDavid pulls through for Oilers


EDMONTON — “It was ugly.” 

Connor McDavid was stunningly out of character for 40 minutes Saturday. Like Picasso working with a can of spray paint, or Adele rapping karaoke.

“It was ugly right from the start for me,” he said post-game. “I fought the puck all night, changed sticks couple times. Dropped my stick, lost a mouth guard a bunch of times… It was ugly, but obviously sticking with it and found a way to contribute to the game.” 

Somehow, locked in a 2-2 game after 40 minutes with what is beginning to look like THE Divisional rival for his Edmonton Oilers, the greatest player in the game found his cape some time during the second intermission. McDavid set up a goal on his first shift of the third period and ended the game with an OT dazzler, walking past one of the top defenders in the sport in Alex Pietrangelo in the process to give Edmonton a 4-3 win.

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“I think anybody can see blood. He’s one of the special ones that can smell it,” said his head coach Jay Woodcroft. 

“That was a very determined and serious player who wanted to go out and find the two points for our team, and make plays down the stretch. I like that he had that about him.” 

No one is going to criticize McDavid for having a tough 40 minutes, where he missed a handful of passes, had the puck roll off his stick a couple of times, and fumbled more than one pass reception. It was more the realization of how rare it was to see McDavid struggle. 

It was like someone had filled the Jaguar up with diesel, or strung the Stradivarius violin with fishing line, as McDavid choked along through 40 minutes of a key game on that luminous Hockey Night in Canada stage the kid from Newmarket has made his own over these many years. 

Then the third period began, and on his first shift he slipped a pass right into Zach Hyman’s wheelhouse for a one-timer that gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead. On his next shift, he sent linemate Mattias Janmark in alone, and later in the same shift spun off a Golden Knights defenceman like Baryshnikov, dancing in alone only to be thwarted. 

How did he go from being so bad (by his standards) to so good? 

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“I’m not quite sure,” said McDavid. “These nights happen. I look back at the game against New York last year. And when I scored that goal (tiptoeing through five Rangers), I was kind of in a battle again, and fighting it. 

“It happens to everybody,” he said. “Like I said, I was fighting the puck all night and (made) a couple terrible plays. I was just trying to be on the right side of the puck all night, and not give up anything defensively. And pitch in when I when I could. 

“You know, make it count when you get your chance.” 

Oh boy, did McDavid make it count, scoring a goal you’ve likely seen a few times already on TV. 

He deftly got underneath Pietrangelo’s stick late in a three-on-three overtime shift, found some space to the outside and tucked a shot under the bar behind Adin Hill, ending what was nothing short of a dandy night of hockey between two teams who likely have a playoff meeting or two awaiting them — if not this year, then soon thereafter. 

“That was his version of fighting the puck. We’d all like to fight it like that,” chuckled three-assist man Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “When he turns it on, it’s fun to watch. In big moments, he’s there.” 

This was a big moment for an Oilers team that had fallen to 9-8 and lost a tight, 3-1 game two nights before. On Sunday they fly out for a New York swing that opens in Newark, New Jersey with a Monday night game against a Devils team that has won 12 straight games. 

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They’ve been good on the road. But they needed this one in their own barn, grabbing the extra point from Vegas, a team Edmonton trails by nine points already. 

“We’ve had success on the road and haven’t found that yet at home,” McDavid said. “I thought we played a gritty, sound game, and just gave ourselves a chance.”  

What are you doing Monday night? 

The Devils are fast, good and young, the newest flavour in the NHL ice cream cooler as a moribund franchise comes of age with a healthy and surprising lead atop the Metropolitan Division. 

They’ll put that 12-game heater on the line against an Oilers club that coughed up a win to New Jersey just a couple of weeks ago here in Edmonton, a loss that sent the Oilers in the wrong direction. 

The Oilers haven’t forgotten. 

This one should be a beauty. 

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