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This is how Connor McDavid wins: ‘He’s like a shark circling the waters’

CALGARY — Where would the Oilers be without Connor McDavid?

He’s the last person in the world who’d want this rhetorical question presented in this way, but his next-level talent and drive are just that obvious.

There’s simply no way the Oilers would be in the second round of the playoffs, their series with the rival Flames now tied at one, without their captain leading the way.

Game 2, a 5-3 Oilers win, was yet another clinic by the four-time Art Ross Trophy winner.

McDavid set up one goal and scored another. He had an assist called back on a would-be Leon Draisaitl goal when it was deemed McDavid himself interfered with Flames goaltender Jacob Markström. He easily could have padded his stats further.

He’s now at 20 points in the playoffs in just nine contests — joining a group of players for the second-fewest games to reach that mark.

Hockey Hall of Famer and Stanley Cup winner Mike Modano has tuned in for most of McDavid’s magical moments this spring. He feels like he’s witnessing something remarkable.

“He’s like a shark circling the waters,” Modano said.

To his point, there might as well have been a bucket of chum on the ice in the Flames zone whenever McDavid was out there. Someone should have played the “Jaws” music. It would have been fitting.

It seemed like the Oilers had a legitimate chance to score when McDavid was skating. Conversely, the Flames carried more of the play when he was on the bench.

Per Natural Stat Trick, McDavid and Evander Kane were the only Oilers to have a positive shot-attempt differential at five-on-five. McDavid had a team-high 60.9 Corsi for percentage. Seven Oilers had a positive expected goals rate in that game situation. McDavid was third at 72.4 percent, behind third-pairing defencemen Brett Kulak and Tyson Barrie.

At times, McDavid was simply a man possessed.

“Connor is the best hockey player in the world,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “He’s willing to pay a price to win. He’s driven to win. He has an effect on everybody in our organization with that desire to take his game to the next level.”

First, McDavid set up Duncan Keith for the veteran’s first playoff goal as an Oiler. The goal, at 13:38 of the first period, cut a 2-0 deficit in half and helped steady the team after another poor start.

He was simply a force to be reckoned with in the second frame.

With the Oilers down 4-1 early in the period, McDavid drove hard to the net but couldn’t pull the puck around Markström. The puck squirted free to Draisaitl for a tap-in. However, the goal was called back after Flames coach Darryl Sutter challenged for goaltender interference. McDavid was deemed to have contacted Markström, who was in his crease, on the way by.

“Just to take the puck to the net,” McDavid said. “I’m trying to get out of the way. Markström is kind of coming out at the same time.

“It’s the same old story. You never really know.”

It was almost like McDavid took that call against him, and his team, personally. He made amends just 32 seconds later on a four-on-four, almost instantly getting the disallowed goal right back.

“I’m always hungry to make a play, so just happy to contribute,” McDavid said.

McDavid slid off a check from Flames blueliner Nikita Zadorov. He then passed to Keith and made a beeline for the net. After receiving the return feed, McDavid, in all alone, stickhandled back and forth before tucking a puck around Markström.

It was a thing of beauty.

“It’s like it didn’t get called back,” Hyman said. “He’s taking his game to another level and that’s hard to do already. He’s pushing his own limits. That’s what special players do.

“He’s leading our team in every aspect. Last game, he had the most hits on our team. He’s doing it all. He’s a huge reason why we’re here.”

Some Oilers were opportunistic. Hyman and Draisaitl netting third-period breakaway goals that stood as the winning and insurance markers serving were the prime examples. Others, like Keith, who had three points, chipped in, too.

But it was McDavid, who not only led the attack but led the way as well. Once again.

“The way this guy is playing right now, it’s special. He’s driving our team forward,” Woodcroft said. “We got a lot of really good efforts from a lot of people tonight. But the way Connor is playing is very inspiring.”

McDavid has been the difference-maker in each of Edmonton’s last three wins dating back to Game 6 of the Los Angeles series.

“Everybody who’s watching it, you don’t have to say much. It’s just evident,” Hyman said. “He’s the best player in the world and he’s pushing himself.

“When you’re the best, it’s easy to be comfortable because guys are chasing you. But it’s hard to keep pushing and keep challenging yourself. And he’s a guy who wants to win more than anybody. You’re seeing him push himself, push our team, and those are the results.”

Everyone sure is watching.

For Modano, it’s more than the jaw-dropping goals or the sublime assists that stand out. It’s everything. It’s the high-impact ice time, and the sheer amount of it.

Though McDavid only played 21:30 on Friday, he was tasked with playing more than 27 minutes in the Game 7 victory last week.

“Everybody raves about a defenceman playing 30 minutes. Those guys stand around half the time anyway. You’re not really moving,” Modano said. “To do 27 minutes as a forward, you’re up and down. You’re covering a lot of ice; more than a defenceman. That’s what blows my mind.”

And then there’s the work McDavid’s doing in his own end — “the grunt work,” Modano calls it — that he does before he shines in the offensive end.

His coach saw the complete package, as per usual these playoffs, on Friday as well.

“It’s his measure of physicality that he plays with, his fearlessness to go to hard areas, the way that he makes people around him better,” Woodcroft said. “But what I saw was a leader who, when the game was on the line, was prepared to be in a shooting lane.

“When the goalie was pulled and we’re killing penalty, he was it was out there for a reason. He put his body on the line so that we would win. That type of self-sacrifice is what it takes to win come this time of year.”

Indeed. McDavid is truly doing it all.

It’s the stuff of legends — something that will go down as an all-time performance if the Oilers can continue piling up wins.

Because if the Oilers are going to do that, McDavid will undoubtedly have to keep this up.

“He can sense it’s his opportunity to really make something of himself personally and collectively as a team,” Modano said. “At this point in his career, I think he really wants to have some deep runs in the playoffs. That’s what’ll make him separate himself from the pack.”

(Photo: Derek Leung / Getty Images)

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