EDMONTON — Connor McDavid's speed alone makes him a dangerous player, but it's what he can do while in full flight that gives opposing defenceman fits.
The Edmonton Oilers captain scored three goals Monday in a spirited 6-3 win over Chicago that tied their best-of-five preliminary-round series at a game apiece. But it was his second goal in particular that had his teammates, and his head coach, talking the next day.
After scoring the opener 19 seconds into the game to set the tone, McDavid put his team up 2-0 less that four minutes later with a display of speed and skill that Chicago's bewildered defence was helpless to stop.
McDavid batted a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins pass out of the air, then raced down the ice while trying to control the bouncing puck. McDavid easily outraced pursuing defenceman Slater Koekkoek, then slipped by his bewildered defence partner Olli Maatta before shovelling a backhand over Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford.
"The thing that amazes me is the speed that he's going when he's doing that," Oilers coach Dave Tippett told reporters Tuesday. "Just talking from experience as an old player, you're trying to find that thing and bat it down and get it flat, but usually you're working on that and not thinking about how fast you're going. Connor does those things at high, high speed, and that's what catches players.
"He must have whacked that thing four or five times but he knew exactly what he was doing every time he was touching it, until it finally laid down. And the next part of it, to make a shot like that when you're going that speed and the puck has been bouncing around, that's elite talent."
Nugent-Hopkins said it was "up there" on his list of favourite McDavid goals.
"Given the time of the game, given the type of game it was, and I mean just his explosive speed," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We know how fast he can be, but for him to be able to control the puck like that and then put it top-shelf on a backhand, I mean it's not an easy thing to do."
The Blackhawks managed to fight their way back into the game and tied it 3-3, but McDavid completed his hat trick with the winning goal to cap the second period.
HABS COACH STRESSES WORK ETHIC
While there are some concerning statistics, Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien wasn't interested in focusing on numbers on Tuesday.
Julien feels there's a simple way for his team to have more success in Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday in Toronto.
"It's not X's and O's any more. It's how hard you want to compete, how hard you want to go to the net, how hard you want to get to those pucks," Julien said on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the heavily favoured Penguins evened up the best-of-five series at 1-1 with a 3-1 victory.
"It's called will and determination. We need to bring that part of our game up."
The Habs showed a bit more energy in the third period, when they registered 14 of their 27 shots.
If not for Carey Price, the game could have been out of reach. Pittsburgh outshot the Canadiens 29-13 in the first two periods, yet only led 1-0.
"I think everyone knows nice to have the best goaltender in the world," Habs forward Max Domi said. "He showed that the last two games. He really kept us in it. We've got find a way to be little bit better in front of him top to bottom."
It will help if the Canadiens can stay out of the penalty box.
Pittsburgh has had 12 power-play chances in the first two games, though it has just one goal with the man advantage.
However, the Canadiens are playing with fire if they keep going to the box against Sidney Crosby and Co.
"We're a 5-on-5 team that usually has good stats. We need to play more 5 on 5," Julien said. "Even though they've scored one power-play goal, they've had some chances and they've had some momentum that they've been able to build off the power play."
KOTKANIEMI STEPS UP
Sophomore Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been one of the pleasant surprises in the first two post-season games for the Canadiens.
The third overall pick in the 2018 draft, Kotkaniemi has a goal in each of the first two contests against the Pens.
It comes after a season in which he was sent down to Laval of the American Hockey League for 13 games. Kotkaniemi had six goals and two assists in 36 games with Montreal.
The six-foot-two Finn stuck in the NHL as an 18-year-old rookie last season, registering 11 goals and 23 assists in 79 games.
"Everyone always says the game gets easier as you get older and you can see that," Domi said of Kotkaniemi. "He came in at such a young age. The sky's really the limit for his potential. We're very lucky to have him. I think the best time to learn is playoff hockey and playing against one of the most experienced teams and some of the best players in the world."
The Oilers' hulking fourth line of centre Jujhar Khaira and wingers James Neal and Alex Chiasson was effective at throwing its weight around against the smaller Blackhawks, and was rewarded on the scoresheet when Neal and Chiasson scored third-period insurance goals to put Game 2 away.
"That's certainly what we're looking for from that line," Tippett said. "They are a big, strong line. They protect the puck well. When they get around the net they can be real hard in there.
"J.J. (Khaira) has really evolved for us as a solid centreman. He's positionally very sound. So that's the kind of game that we're looking for from them, and it's good to see them get rewarded with some of the work they're putting in down low."
NEED FOR SPEED
Oilers forward Andreas Athanasiou is no slouch when it comes to flying up and down the rink. But how does he think would do in a race with McDavid?
"That guy's really fast," Athanasiou said with a laugh. "It's crazy.
"So explosive every single night, and I see that and I just push myself to try to keep up as best as I can."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2020.
The Canadian Press