EDMONTON — Sometimes hockey delivers like this. Other times, it gets you to the table expecting steak, then serves you Kraft Dinner.
On a Tuesday night in October however, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid — and two sets of teammates playing their hearts out for their respective captains — cooked up a 6-5 feast that ironically marked Game 7 of the season for both clubs.
This meeting was played in the midst of the ‘Best Player in the Game’ debate. The hyperbole was thick, but perhaps leaner than the drama that would ensue.
After 40 minutes however, fans had been dealt the ol’ bait-and-switch. Crosby opened the scoring, but McDavid was pointless while two guys named Jamie Oleksiak and Alex Chiasson had two goals apiece. It was like going to Ruth’s Chris Steak House and being told, “Sorry, all out of steak. Have this salad.”
Then the third period began.
McDavid had a goal before the 3:00 mark, then assisted on another to put Edmonton ahead 5-4 at the 4:18 mark. It was both a statement by McDavid that he refused to be dismissed on this night, and a call for Crosby, who would answer with an OT winner so fabulously electric that you’ve no doubt seen it countless times already.
Breathtaking. It was only October hockey, and the whole scene was breathtaking.
“You (media) guys all say that McDavid’s better than him, and then he has the puck the whole game and finishes off like that. That’s why he’s the best player in the world,” said Patric Hornqvist, who had two goals and an assist. “I think he showed tonight who is the best player in the world. He always shows up when you guys say he is not the best anymore, and all that.
“Then he comes in and does that — probably the nicest goal through his whole career. It says a lot.”
Nicest goal? It’s in the conversation.
Most important goal? No chance. That one came about a 12-hour drive west of here, preceded by a throaty, “Iggy!” call from Canada’s captain.
This was some theatre, however, with Crosby dancing out of the corner in overtime, lacing a puck through the legs of Ryan Strome, then waiting, waiting and outwaiting Cam Talbot before rifling a trademark backhand in for the game-winner.
It’s old hat for Crosby, hearing about how someone is about to punt him off hockey’s throne.
Words and deeds. Turns out they’re two different things.
“There are always different challenges, and they are different,” he began. “We just came from Toronto, you’re playing against Matthews, Marner, Tavares … There are matchups every night. But everybody understands, players especially, when there are more eyes on the game. You try and be at your best, whether it’s a rival, an opposing centre, an opposing defenceman … You get up for those.”
This one is becoming a true fixture, played just twice a year between two teams on the other side of the hockey map. It’s Gretzky vs. Lemieux: The Sequel. Pittsburgh almost always wins, but the Oilers give the fans a game they won’t soon forget.
In this chapter, McDavid led everyone with eight shots on goal, while Crosby led his team with five. Crosby answering McDavid’s challenge in overtime was stuff you could barely make up if you tried.
“Listen, I’m not changing the way I play,” said Crosby, as we cajoled him to admit to some primal urge to rise to McDavid’s challenge. To admit that, yes, it felt pretty good to come in here and score that goal on this night.
This is as close as Crosby comes to that:
“I’m going out there every night to try and create things, and come up with big plays when they’re needed. I’m not any different than (McDavid) is as far as understanding my responsibility, and wanting to be at my best.
“It’s tight games. He stepped up. Geno (Malkin), anyone — we want to step up too and get the two points.”
The Oilers deserved better, outshooting the Penguins 46-31. But overtime is a crap shoot, and in the midst of a six-game run against teams that had 100 or more points last season, Edmonton will take the point and move along to tests against Washington and Nashville.
Edmonton got the support scoring it has been waiting for, with pairs from Chiasson and Leon Draisaitl, and the fans got their money’s worth-plus in a game that, decades from now, you’ll recall when asked. “Yes, I saw those two play against each other one night. I believe it was in Edmonton.”
“I’m sure it was a fun game to watch with lots of good players on the ice,” McDavid said. “Creative plays going on, chances going both ways. Fans got a good show.”
He tipped his hat to Crosby. The protégé, reminded that even though his time at the top of the game is nigh, it has not arrived quite yet.
“Beautiful play, beautiful goal,” McDavid said. “Not much we could do there.”
Only to enjoy it. That’s all you could do.