You know it’s an important time in the season when a head-to-head showdown between Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby is a side note.
But with the Edmonton Oilers having lost three of their previous five games and the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames making things too close for comfort in the Pacific Division stretch drive, which superstar had more points took a distant back seat to which team got the win.
In the end, McDavid stole the show with another one of his next-level performances, but Pittsburgh stole the only result that mattered – a 3-2 shootout victory in a thrilling and wildly entertaining battle between two of the league’s most exciting teams Friday night at Rogers Place.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t get the two points but I thought the game drew a little bit of desperation out of our group, we took it up a notch, there was more intensity to our game,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. “We didn’t have that against Detroit and New York. It’s in us and the Penguins brought it out of us, now it’s up to us to keep it.
“In my opinion, there were some real positives on our game. A point short but a really good night.”
McDavid had an amazing game, even for McDavid. He played 26:53, put nine shots on net, scored the tying goal with 7:15 left in regulation and added another goal in the third round of the shootout.
It wasn’t enough, though, as Crosby and Phil Kessel scored shootout goals for Pittsburgh to seal the win.
“(McDavid) was all over the rink,” said McLellan. “He played well offensively, defensively, he was a threat every time he was out there. He was good in the circle and in overtime. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
McDavid admitted he was geared up for this one with Crosby staring at him from across the faceoff dot.
“To say it’s a normal game would be lying,” he said. “Obviously, he’s someone I’ve looked up to my whole life. To play against him is fun. It was probably to my advantage; it’s easier for me to get up to play against him than it his for him to get up to play against me.”
While they needed two points instead of one, the Oilers looked better in this loss than they’ve looked in some of their wins. After a slow start in the first period, they outshot Pittsburgh 32-14 over the final 40 minutes and 42-30 overall. They were the stronger team physically, too, outhitting Pittsburgh 30-17.
Faceoffs? Edmonton won 76 per cent.
They did everything but win the game. And while this is the time of year where the only thing that matters are wins, the Oilers and their fans left the rink feeling better than when they arrived.
“We wanted the extra point, but we’ll take one after having to battle back (from a 2-0 deficit),” said Talbot. “That second period was probably some of the best hockey we’ve played. Down the stretch after the first period, we really turned out game around.”
Even Crosby noticed.
“They’re a playoff team and they’ve had success this year for a reason,” said the Pens captain. “It’s not fun when they’re coming at you. (McDavid) is dangerous. Plays that seem like nothing plays, he’s able to create a chance. You try to contain him the best you can but with speed like that, he’s going to create things out there.”
Unfortunately for the Oilers, McDavid did a little creating at the wrong end of the ice to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead. Nick Bonino had already made it 1-0 when Talbot let a long shot from Evengi Malkin dribble through his legs to the goal-line, but not over, late in the first. McDavid came to rescue, only to kick the puck over the line in a desperate attempt to save the day.
“It was a mistake on my part that cost our team.” said McDavid. “I was just trying to get my stick in there and I kinda caught the edge of the net and on a play like that, you’re kind of just panicking. Kind of a funny play; we’ll be seeing that for a while on the bloopers for sure.”
After David Desharnais cut it to 2-1 and McDavid tied it, it was tense, wild and furious action all the way to Kessel’s final shot.
If the rest of the stretch drive is like this, hang on.
“You’re on coach mode, but you appreciate what’s going on out there,” said McLellan. “It’s going fast, there’s a lot of skill, great plays, the energy in the building was phenomenal. You could feel it on the bench and the guys got going. It was a tremendous game.”