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Stanley Cup Final sees Connor Brown come up big for Oilers after slow start to season

There is no doubt Connor McDavid is the biggest reason the Edmonton Oilers have made it a series in the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers.

Their other Connor has played a crucial role in the comeback bid, too.

Connor Brown set up the early short-handed goal that sparked the team in Game 4 on the way to an 8-1 rout that avoided a sweep, then scored one in Game 5 to send the series back across North America.

Edmonton Oilers right wing Connor Brown (28) controls the puck as Florida Panthers centre Anton Lundell (15) defends during the first period of Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Maligned for his lack of production in his first season with Edmonton, Brown finally looks like himself 20 months after tearing the ACL in his left knee, and that could not be coming at a better time for the Oilers.

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“It’s so nice to see a guy stick with it after going through so much adversity,” Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said Wednesday. “It just took him a while to build his game. This should be expected because of his injury, and he just continually got better throughout the season.

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“His play right now has been exceptional.”

Brown injured his knee Oct. 17, 2022, in just his fourth game with the Washington Capitals, who at the time were counting on him to bring some of the speed and scoring he showed throughout his first seven NHL seasons with Toronto and Ottawa. Instead, he leaned on short-time teammates John Carlson and Carl Hagelin and team staff to handle the mental aspect of such a traumatic injury.

“Obviously, it wasn’t an easy year for me,” Brown said on Cup final media day. “I come in, I’m in a situation where I don’t really know anyone, I’m just getting my feet wet and get injured.

“It was a big set of adversity for me, but it all kind of led me here.”

Brown, who turned 30 in January, signed an incentive-heavy contract with the Oilers that paid him the league-minimum $775,000 with $3,225,000 in performance bonuses. One of the reasons fans were critical of Brown putting up just 12 points in 71 games is that extra money counts against the team’s salary cap expenditures next season.

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He had four points through three rounds before making a major impact in the final.

“I think a lot of people lost faith, but he’s an unbelievable player,” said top-line winger Zach Hyman, who overlapped with Brown for parts of four seasons with the Maple Leafs from 2016-19. “I played with him for a long time, so I knew how good he can be. He’s showing it every night.

“At the highest stage, he’s one of (the) best players. Credit to him.”

Brown, a decade removed from starring in junior as a teammate of McDavid’s and playing for Knoblauch with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, knew he was not fully healthy at the start of this season and struggled to handle that limitation. Slowly, he felt the jump in his legs come back, feeding the speed he’s now unleashing on the Panthers.

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With the dark days of the injury and rehab behind him, Brown “just started to just play again,” and suddenly hockey became fun again.

“Over the last bunch of months, it just doesn’t feel like work,” Brown said. “I’m excited to come to the rink day in, day out, especially with this group.

“It’s good to be back.”

Click to play video: '‘We’ve believed in this’: Ekholm, Brown on Edmonton Oilers winning Game 5 of Stanley Cup Final'

‘We’ve believed in this’: Ekholm, Brown on Edmonton Oilers winning Game 5 of Stanley Cup Final

&© 2024 The Associated Press

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