It is a long season, full of visits by the Arizonas, Carolinas and New Jerseys of the world—teams that might not move the needle of a Canadian hockey fan as much as the Washingtons and Torontos might.
Every once in a while, however, a game comes along like the one Friday night in Edmonton. A frosty Friday night in Alberta and a packed house in a reborn hockey town; Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and a frenetic, wildly entertaining game that had to be settled by a shootout.
The kind of game that makes you forget how much the tickets cost, or how cold the car was when you fired it up post-game. It ended in a 3-2 Penguins win, but despite dropping the point it was likely the most entertaining game of Edmonton’s home season thus far.
"To say it’s a normal game would be lying," admitted McDavid, who took his game to an impossibly high level on a night when he would trade shootout goals with his childhood hero Crosby. "Obviously, he’s someone I’ve looked up to my whole life. To play against him is fun.
"It was probably to my advantage," he added. "It’s easier for me to get up to play against him than it his for him to get up to play against me."
This was Pittsburgh’s only visit to Rogers Place all season, and it was as if Crosby was responsible for holding on to his "Best Player in Hockey" mantle, the way a wrestler carries a belt from town to town. And just as Wayne Gretzky used to do when Guy Lafleur or Mike Bossy rolled through the old Northlands Coliseum, McDavid did everything he could to steal Crosby’s title.
The Oilers’ 20-year-old captain was the best player on the ice Friday, outplaying Crosby with a goal and nine shots on net. It was simply tremendous theatre between two good teams and their superstars.
"The Pittsburgh Penguins against the Edmonton Oilers was a pretty fast-paced game," marvelled Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, "and those guys (Crosby, McDavid) are elite players. It was certainly one of the faster-paced games that we’ve played in."
While Crosby went pointless, McDavid scored the game-tying goal midway through the third period, and fanned on his shot with Marc-Andre Fleury down and out on an overtime breakaway. Crosby rifled home his shootout goal, answered immediately by McDavid, and then the two watched as Phil Kessel’s ripper gave Pittsburgh the extra point.
Edmonton fell behind 2-0 after 20 minutes, and then took the game away from Pittsburgh over the final 40, hitting three posts along the way.
"That second period was probably some of the best hockey we’ve played. Down the stretch after the first period, we really turned our game around," said Oilers goalie Cam Talbot, who sat back and watched the McDavid show alongside 18,347 fans. "I don’t think you ever get used to it. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, but tonight was a little extra motivation to play against Sid and Malkin. They’ve been two of the best in the game for a really long time. And Connor? He’s the future."
"To me, Sid is the best," countered Fleury, who was simply fantastic, stopping 40 shots. "He’s been the best for a long time and I think he does so many good things offensively and defensively. He’s a real complete player out there."
It’s a game like this one that validates the Crosby-McDavid comparisons.
Crosby’s game is surely more well-rounded than McDavid’s, though McDavid’s speed makes him more explosive. Both show that sense for the dramatic, McDavid with one of his best games all season under the bright lights, and Crosby with a cool shootout goal that shows why he has always been money in the clutch.
McDavid played a game-high 26:53, Crosby 22:46. If you had asked the fans, they’d have stayed all night.
"(McDavid) was all over the rink, a threat every time he was out there," said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. "In the circle, in the overtime, what else do you want me to say? The energy in the building was phenomenal, we could feel it on the bench. If you’re driving home tonight, after that game, you want to come back for the next game."
That’s against Montreal, a Hometown Hockey matchup on Sunday night at Rogers Place. If it’s half the game this one was, I wouldn’t miss it.