TORONTO — It was the goal that summed up what the best player in the game is all about.
Connor McDavid never even looked at the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman, Morgan Rielly, he was about to take on one-on-one. Because McDavid is a pass-first guy, and he was actually looking for a teammate to catch up and join him.
“I knew Nuge was jumping, so I thought maybe (he’d) give him a chance to make an odd-man rush, maybe a two-on-one, and then just try to make a play,” said McDavid, who finally ran out of time and patience when it became clear that the cavalry was not going to make it on time.
So he went to Plan B, scorched Rielly with his world-class speed and scored what teammate Alex Chiasson would later call, “the nicest goal I’ve ever seen.”
On a play that left even the full house of Maple Leafs fans knowing they’d seen a goal they may literally tell their grandchildren about one day, McDavid went from first gear to fourth in two strides, left Rielly in his wake and put a lovely deke on Toronto goalie Michael Hutchinson to complete the masterpiece. You’ve already seen it multiple times on TV and Twitter — or in Rielly’s nightmares after a 6-4 Oilers win.
“He’s the most dangerous player in the world for a reason,” said Toronto’s Auston Matthews. “So when you just let him fly through the neutral zone with the speed and skill that he has, I mean he’s going to make us pay. That’s what he did tonight.”
And he did it to Rielly, no less, leaving the Leafs’ best defenceman sour post-game.
“Can you give us an idea what it’s like to defend 97 when he has speed?” Rielly was asked.
“No, not really,” he said. “I mean, he’s tough.”
“That’s a good D-man in a good spot,” Darnell Nurse said.
“And (McDavid) just made an unbelievable play. It’s fun to watch.”
It was McDavid’s first-ever NHL goal at Scotiabank Arena, where he has scored in a World Cup and as a junior. When it was done, he had a four-point, first-star night in Toronto, scoring a fabulous goal in a town that knows just how rare a talent they were watching.
Watch the replay and turn the sound up. You can literally hear the noise level of the Leafs crowd rise, dazzled as he turns on the jets and roars past Rielly.
“It’s definitely special, it’s a building our team has struggled in, personally I’ve struggled in it, so it was definitely fun to come in here and get a big win,” said McDavid, who has never been very willing to crow about one of these highlight-reel goals. “Everyone wants to play well in their hometown, I had lots of friends and family in the building so it was fun to get one. It feels good.
“We haven’t had a win in here since I’ve been a part of the Oilers. Definitely fun to get one.”
After the Oilers walked into Boston on Saturday and won 4-1, Leon Draisaitl declared, “It can’t be a one-off.” So, Edmonton took the confidence that came with beating the Bruins and never trailed in Toronto, chasing starter Frederik Andersen and returning the favour for a 6-2 loss in this building almost a year ago.
“We were saying before the game, I got here four years ago and I don’t think I’ve won in this building. It’s nice to take one home,” said the Hamilton-born Nurse. “A lot of us have a lot of family here, and being out West, you don’t get the opportunity to see your family and friends very often. To be able to win, finish on the right note, it’s big for everybody.”
The Oilers, who chased pretty much every game in a dismal December, led this one wire-to-wire, scoring first and then killing a 1:23 two-man advantage in the opening period that could have changed everything.
Six different players scored for Edmonton, though everyone left the building raving about only one of those goals. Everyone but the coach, that is.
“What did you think about the goal?” head coach Dave Tippett was asked.
“Which one?” he said. “I liked all six of them.”
Giving up four goals leaves some coaches unhappy, but this is Toronto, where the Leafs score in bunches. Tippett will take a 6-4 win, for a team that has five points in the opening three games of this road trip and is edging back up towards the top of the Pacific.
“I don’t want to give up four … but you’ve also got to respect the skill of the other team sometimes,” said Tippett. “Our guys are playing with confidence. We feel like, if we play the way we can, we can win.”
And they are doing exactly that.