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Dave Hyde: Panthers run into Connor McDavid again in 5-3 loss to Oilers, and series is on

Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Hockey

SUNRISE, Fla. — So, yes, in case you wondered, that’s Connor McDavid.

That’s the King of the North. That’s the oil to the Edmonton Oilers’ engine. That’s the player who was everything the Florida Panthers feared coming into the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight game on Tuesday night.

And so for the second straight game the Stanley Cup trophy came to the arena looking to go home with the Panthers and instead left on the shuttle between South Florida and Edmonton. It’s back to Edmonton for Game 6 on Friday night, back to the Great Beyond and back to a series the Panthers hoped to avoid.

What happened Tuesday? Pick your poison. The Panthers gave up a short-handed goal for the second straight game to open the scoring. They were again uncharacteristically sloppy on their strength, which is their defense. They don’t usually win shootouts against teams. All true.

But the big reason they lost is McDavid again showed he’s the best player on the planet. In a showcase second period, he had a goal and two assists, with each play better than the last. The first assist as a secondary one where, yes, he opened the goal that made it 2-0.

He then scored from an impossible, billiard-shot angle by Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to make 3-0.

Finally, when the Panthers closed to within 3-2, McDavid skated between two Panthers defenders, like a knife through cheddar cheese, and dished the puck to fourth-liner Corey Perry for a tap-in goal.

They knew that coming into the series the power of McDavid. They were reminded in their 8-1 loss in Game 4 where McDavid had a goal and three assists. He broke Wayne Gretzky’s assist total for a postseason at 32 that game.

He added to it Tuesday. He now has 41 total postseason points to rank fourth in a playoffs behind Gretzky (twice) and Mario Lemieux. Do you see the rare air he’s breathing? And do you see what the Panthers must contend with now.

They tried mightily to come back Tuesday night. Matthew Tkachuk gave some life in a 3-0 game with his first goal in 10 games. Evan Rodrigues cut it to 4-2. Tkachuk fed Oliver Ekman Larsson for a goal that cut it to 4-3 with just under 16 minutes to play and gave Amerant Bank Arena full life.

But the Panthers haven’t come this far needing five and six goals to win games. Defense is their strength, their priority, the thing they do best. All playoffs they’ve shut down the opponent’s best player. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov. Boston’s David Pastrnak. New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin.

 

Not McDavid.

Not for how he’s changing this series.

All the questions entering Game 5 were what Game 4 meant. Edmonton’s 8-1 win kept them alive in the series. Did it do anything more? Would coming back to Sunrise settle the Panthers’ game? Would playing a second-straight game with the Stanley Cup in the building allow for calmer nerves?

“It feels different,’’ Aaron Ekblad said Tuesday morning. “It feels like another hockey game.”

Panthers coach Paul Maurice put Ryan Lomberg in the lineup for the first time this series. A small move, perhaps. But the message was telling about what Maurice thought this team needed.

“Obviously, we know his skill set and the speed and the energy and all that, but in a game like this was you know so much on the line — how much does maybe his personality also help?” he said. “Obviously, I know he’s the guy that loosens up the rest of the guys a lot of the time.”

If they needed loosening up before Game 5, what now?

Now they go back to Edmonton, back to a world against them, for Game 6. Now the debate is if Edmonton has the edge this series. Now the question is how the Panthers feel about a 3-0 series that’s now 3-2.

Now, too, the wonder is McDavid. He’s come alive the past two games. He’s brought Edmonton with him. And a series that looked over but for the coronation has the King of the North to talk about again.


©2024 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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