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McDavid, Oilers looking to continue Stanley Cup push in Game 6 against Panthers

EDMONTON — Connor McDavid has spent his entire life pushing toward the biggest moment on hockey's biggest stage.

The crisp winter nights on outdoor rinks. The countless hours inside arenas. The long bus rides. The training sessions in searing summer heat. The hours of skating, stickhandling, shooting.

The grind has taken the Edmonton Oilers captain, blessed with good genes and an unparalleled work ethic, from youngster to prodigy to superstar.

He now sits two wins from hoisting the Stanley Cup — and authoring an improbable, historic comeback.

"You think that when you're here it's going to be some magic feeling," McDavid said Thursday. "You don't know what to expect. To be honest, it's all been pretty normal."

McDavid, to be honest, has been anything but in what is turning into a best-of-seven masterpiece, grabbing hold of the title series in stunning fashion after his team went down 3-0 to the Florida Panthers.

Edmonton's back pressed against the wall, the 27-year-old powered through with a four-point performance in an 8-1 walloping in Game 4 before again leaving his stamp with two goals and two assists as part of a 5-3 victory in Game 5 that dragged the Panthers back to the Alberta capital for Friday's Game 6.

"I don't think you can be exceptional at anything you do unless you absolutely love what you're doing," Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said.

"He loves playing hockey."

McDavid's 42 points in these playoffs is a number bettered only by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in a single post-season. His eight points in consecutive Cup games is a record. His output of 11 points through five contests in a final is a record.

And he's two points back of Gretzky's high-water mark of 13 in a single championship round, which the Great One accomplished all the way back in 1988.

"A very competitive person," Knoblauch continued. "He wants to win, wants to be the best. Between his love and passion, that just allows him to rise up and make those plays at significant times."

Edmonton forward Corey Perry has seen plenty of leaders in a long career that included a Cup win back in 2007 with Anaheim.

McDavid's style is similar — quiet, confident, all business.

"Everybody knows what he does on the ice," said the 39-year-old Perry. "Tremendous, world-class player. He lets the play do his talking. It's not like he's in the room yelling and screaming and getting everybody going.

"(Hall of Fame defenceman) Scott Niedermayer was the exact same way."

Perry was on the receiving end of a McDavid pass in Game 5 that came at the end of a long shift where the lightning-quick centre knifed through the Florida defence — a sequence that will live on highlight reels for generations if the Oilers finish the job.

"Those are some things that you just never forget," Perry said. "He's put this team on his back and really led by example.

"Guy's on a mission and we're right there following with him."

Edmonton goaltender Stuart Skinner, whose team is looking to become just the second in NHL history after the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs to win a final after trailing 3-0, said McDavid's positive energy trickles down.

"Gives me a ton of confidence," Skinner said. "Whether I let in five, whether I get a shutout, he's always in my corner."

The Oilers pushed back time and again this season.

They sat 32nd in the overall standings and went through a coaching change before going on a number of impressive runs, including a 16-game winning streak, to make the playoffs.

Edmonton, which is hoping for a Game 7 on Monday in South Florida, then trailed the Vancouver Canucks three times in the second round and were down 2-1 to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference final.

A deep 3-0 hole against the Panthers that now stands at 3-2 is par for the Oilers' course.

"This has always been part of the plan for our group," McDavid said. "To be in a position like this, playing big games at home in big moments."

With rapper Snoop Dogg playing a Thursday show at Rogers Place, the Oilers' media availability was moved to a fifth-floor restaurant in another part of the sprawling arena complex.

Plastered on the walls are quotes from Gretzky's career.

Edmonton's No. 99 had plenty of big moments in this city. This iteration's No. 97 feels it's his team's time.

"Those things just happen," McDavid said. "They're a byproduct of being prepared, all the work that we've done throughout the regular season, all the work that we've done through this run. Those moments are a product of guys who are ready for the big moment.

"There's no group that is more ready for the moment than this one."

With a player penning a remarkable story leading the way.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2024.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press