EDMONTON — “We believe in here,” said Leon Draisaitl.
The Edmonton Oilers had been shut out in two straight games, and when they finally put one past Braden Holtby in the opening period Thursday, well, in reality it was just a Darnell Nurse centering pass that went in off of Dmitry Orlov’s stick.
“We needed to find a way and we did,” said Connor McDavid. “It took the full 20 minutes, but we found a way.”
McDavid exploded in the third period and overtime with a goal and two assists, not to mention hitting a crossbar on a dazzling solo rush. The Oilers scored at the 4:25 mark, and then James Neal fed McDavid for a goal with the goalie pulled and 98 ticks left on the clock.
Draisaitl buried his eighth in OT on a signature 2-on-1 with McDavid, capping a 40-shot night that showed hints of a team that will not be denied.
The team effort in the third period belied the scoresheet, as Edmonton dominated Washington for most of the final 20 minutes to win 4-3, and step back into a tie for first overall in the National Hockey League standings with the Buffalo Sabres at 8-2-1.
“That’s a really good team over there, they’re going to be in the playoffs,” said Draisaitl. “I’m proud of the guys. We stuck with it, we battled.”
As much as it costs to see NHL hockey these days — and this was the third consecutive non-sellout at Rogers Place — 17,144 fans definitely got their money’s worth on this night, as the superstars delivered. Ovechkin had two goals, including a top-corner, powerplay wrist shot that dazzled the fans, while Draisaitl answered with two of his own.
Tipping the scales was McDavid, who put on a third-period tour de force that you simply had to see to believe.
“That is Connor at full speed. It was entertaining to watch,” marveled Oilers coach Dave Tippett. “It was a fun game, I’m sure, for the fans. The big guys scored. Ovechkin had two, Draisaitl had two and McDavid was really good.”
Ovechkin watched his team cough up a point in the third period, the kind of game they’ll be nailing down in April and May.
“We knew we could not give McDavid the speed through the neutral zone,” Ovechkin said. “Those mistakes, they will use them and obviously their speed that they have, we can not give them freedom.”
McDavid was asked about the show put on by the only two 50-goal scorers from last season, and like Draisaitl he deferred to The Great Eight, whose body of work will take years even for McDavid to approach.
“Ovechkin has been doing it for (15) years, one of the best ever to do it,” said McDavid. “He holds the gold standard when it comes to goal scoring. Leon, he’s finding his way. Fifty goals last year, he scores in different ways. Two real good players.”
Young Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear, who was eight years old when Ovechkin broke in, faced the Caps for the first time in his young career. He was outmuscled by Ovechkin on a second period deflection, then watched from the bench as the Caps captain lasered one high-glove for career goal No. 666, a devilish snipe past Mikko Koskinen.
“Honestly, I wish he didn’t score,” said Bear. “But it was pretty cool to see — he just rips it top cheese. Nobody’s really that upset. It’s Ovechkin, right?”
There are games each season that have a shelf life. Nights that teams reference in February and March, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. For an Edmonton team off to a hot start, but wavering on a two-game losing/goalless streak — and trailing 3-1 after 40 minutes — this was one of those.
“They’re a veteran team that knows how to win games,” said McDavid, who hit the 20-point plateau in game No. 11. “They clog it up, they know how to hold leads and they’re comfortable playing in one-goal games.
“Credit to us for not folding, and battling back.”