EDMONTON — When the NHL announced its pandemic-shortened season would include an all-Canadian division, fans across this hockey-mad country immediately zeroed in on one star-studded matchup.
Edmonton versus Toronto. Connor McDavid against Auston Matthews. Nine meetings spread across 56 games.
After two duds last week and a decent undercard Thursday, the Oilers and Maple Leafs finally provided the expected fireworks worthy of a main event.
And the good news is the teams will suit up against each other at least five more times in 2021.
McDavid scored on a jaw-dropping individual effort in regulation before adding another 42 seconds into overtime Saturday as Edmonton defeated Toronto 4-3.
The winner was important. But the first from the Oilers captain was special.
McDavid collected the puck in Edmonton's end on a power play with his team up 2-1 in the second period, sliced through the neutral zone and stepped around Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin like he wasn't even there.
The lightning-quick centre then went from his backhand to his forehand on Andersen in the blink of an eye to bury his sixth of the campaign at 6:13 inside an empty Rogers Place — minus fans due to COVID-19 restrictions — that would have been rocking in the aftermath.
"That's just what he does," said Oilers blue-liner Tyson Barrie, who picked up assists on both McDavid goals. "He's been doing it since he came into the league.
"Just an incredible play from an incredible player."
The usually-stoic McDavid, who didn't speak to reporters post-game, cracked a wide smile in celebration of a sequence that harkened back to the goal he scored in Toronto last January when No. 97 stepped past Morgan Rielly.
The superstar from Newmarket, Ont., seems to save his best for the Leafs.
"What impresses you the most about Connor when he does that is the speed he carries the puck," Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett said. "There's a lot of fast players, but to do it carrying the puck and having control of the puck, that's what makes it so dangerous. He's as fast or faster than anybody in the league.
"I would dare to say he's the fastest guy by a wide margin carrying the puck. It's hard to defend."
And on the winner, McDavid, who also had an assist to tie a franchise record with 17 points through the first 10 games of a season, redirected a Leon Draisaitl pass off the rush as the desperate Oilers halted a two-game slide.
"You've got to love the character," Barrie said. "Hopefully this is the start of something for us."
Dominik Kahun and Josh Archibald also scored for Edmonton (4-6-0), which will now host the Ottawa Senators for two beginning Sunday. Mikko Koskinen stopped 26 shots, while Draisaitl also had two assists.
Matthews, William Nylander and Zach Hyman replied for Toronto (7-2-1). John Tavares added two assists as the Leafs, who collected seven of a possible eight points on their swing through Alberta, saw a four-game winning streak snapped.
"It was a pretty positive road trip, taking three out of four, playing some good teams," said Matthews, who scored in his fifth straight game. "When you're playing the same team back-to-back twice in a row it's hard to win twice."
Frederik Andersen, who made 27 saves, dropped to 14-1-2 in his career against the Oilers. Toronto now has three days off before hosting the Vancouver Canucks for a trio of games starting Thursday.
"It's been a bit of a shotgun start to the season," Matthews said. "It will be nice to re-energize."
Tied 3-3 in the third, the Leafs' second-ranked power play — which knotted the score in the second — went to work when Kailer Yamamoto was whistled for holding, but the Oilers' penalty kill held firm as Koskinen robbed Mitch Marner with a desperation glove save.
Andersen, who is now 7-0-1 all-time in Edmonton, made his best stop of the night in the dying seconds of regulation when he stretched to stop Archibald on a 2-on-1 rush.
"Every game against Toronto's been a real competitive game," Tippett said. "It's a bounce here or there or a save here or there or capitalizing on a chance here or there."
After the Oilers went ahead in the second on McDavid's highlight-reel effort, the Leafs, who took two from the Calgary Flames before Thursday's 4-3 victory in Edmonton, responded 1:55 later when Matthews scored his sixth from a sharp angle to make it 3-2.
Toronto then tied things just 68 seconds after that on a man advantage when Mikko Lehtonen's tipped point shot dropped at Hyman's feet for him to sweep home his second. Lehtonen's assist was the former KHL star's first in North America after signing with the Leafs in the off-season.
"I liked the way we responded," Matthews said of going down 3-1. "We didn't get discouraged, we didn't get down."
McDavid came close to finding the range again later in the period, but his shot hit the post, struck the back of Andersen's leg and stayed out.
"That was a good hockey game," Tippett said. "The only thing that hockey game was missing was fans — it would have made it a great game.
"The star players were in full force ...both teams competed hard."
On the heels of Thursday's encounter that lacked much flow thanks to 11 combined power plays, the teams traded chances early — including Tyler Ennis missing the net on a penalty shot — in a fast-paced opening 20 minutes before Edmonton nudged in front when Kahun scored his first with the Oilers at 11:28.
The German winger took a pass from Draisaitl, his childhood friend, and fanned on his first shot before scooping his second up and over Andersen, who went down on the initial effort.
Toronto got even with 2:14 left in the period when Nylander took advantage of an Edmonton turnover by scoring his fourth, and second in as many games.
But the Oilers retook the lead with 14 seconds left on the clock when McDavid fed a pass against grain from behind Andersen's net to Archibald for his second.
"It's a weird season with (the way) everything's set up and the schedule," Barrie said of the high-flying North Division. "It can get away from you quick.
"We got a good effort tonight. We've got to find ways to string something together."
Notes: McDavid recorded his fourth straight multi-point game. ... Both teams wore their Reverse Retro jerseys for the first time. ... Claimed by Edmonton off waivers Jan. 16 from the Los Angeles Kings, Troy Grosenick dressed as Koskinen's backup after completing a 14-day quarantine.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2021.
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The Canadian Press