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Connor McDavid should get the Conn Smythe no matter what

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“Drag ’em back to Alberta” was Connor McDavid’s oft-quoted mission statement for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final last night in Florida. He made it happen, scoring two goals — including the game-clinching empty netter — and assisting on two others in the Oilers’ series-extending 5-3 win.

The Panthers hoped to hoist the Cup on home ice. Instead, McDavid’s second consecutive four-point performance with his team facing elimination forced his opponents to take the 4,000-km plane ride back to the NHL’s northernmost outpost for Game 6 on Friday night. Think the Edmonton fans will be fired up for that one?

In terms of a superstar hockey player backing up his words, “Drag ’em back to Alberta” followed by a four-point night is maybe not quite on the level of Mark Messier’s hat trick and assist after promising the Rangers would survive their must-win Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference final against New Jersey. But give it time. Messier’s so-called guarantee (he didn’t actually say the word) became legend when the Rangers went on to win Game 7 of that series and then capture their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. If McDavid and the Oilers become the first team since the 1942 Maple Leafs to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win the Cup final, you’ll be seeing “Drag ’em back to Alberta” t-shirts in oil country for years to come (someone already made a country song out of it, by the way).

Cool catchphrases aside, McDavid’s performance in these playoffs is already one for the ages. His three assists in Edmonton’s 8-1 victory in Game 4 broke Wayne Gretzky’s long-standing record of 31 assists in a single post-season. Now, with eight goals and 34 assists in 23 games, McDavid is just five points away from the Great One’s seemingly untouchable record of 47 points in 1985, which until now had never been seriously threatened by anyone but Gretzky himself and Mario Lemieux.

WATCH | McDavid, Oilers send Stanley Cup final back to Alberta for Game 6:

McDavid scores twice in four point night as Oilers claim Game 5 win

18 hours ago

Duration 2:46

Edmonton captain Connor McDavid scored twice and added two helpers as Edmonton defeated Florida 5-3 Tuesday forcing a Game 6.

Yes, Gretzky set the points record in just 18 games — an absurd average of 2.6 points per game that we’ll probably never see again. But McDavid’s 1.83 average in these playoffs is very close to the 1.91 that Lemieux had in 1991 when he finished with 44 points — the second-highest total ever.

Another way to appreciate McDavid’s playoff numbers: applied to an 82-game regular season, his 1.83 points per game works out to 150 points. Only six players in history have reached that plateau (including McDavid in 2022-23, when he won his fifth scoring title and third MVP). And remember that goals are harder to come by in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, McDavid is blowing his contemporaries out of the water. He has 10 more points than anyone else in the post-season and eight more assists (Oiler teammate Evan Bouchard ranks second in both).

If the Oilers become the first team in 82 years to come back from down 3-0 to win the Cup, McDavid will obviously be a unanimous choice for playoff MVP. But you can make a strong case that he deserves the Conn Smythe Trophy no matter what.

Normally, the award goes to someone from the Cup-winning team. But that’s not a rule. It’s just a convention that the voters (members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association) tend to follow. The NHL simply says that the trophy should go to “the most valuable player for his team in the playoffs.”

Indeed, five players from a team that lost the final have won the Conn Smythe: Detroit’s Roger Crozier in 1966, St. Louis’ Glenn Hall in 1968, Philadelphia’s Reggie Leach in 1976, Philly’s Ron Hextall in 1987 and Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003.

Another myth is that the final has to go the distance for someone on the losing team to win the Conn Smythe. That was the case for Hextall and Giguere, but Crozier’s team lost in six while Hall’s and Leach’s actually got swept. So McDavid has a shot even if he can’t drag the series back to Florida.

WATCH | Oilers fans keep Stanley Cup hopes alive:

Oilers fans keep hope alive for Stanley Cup

16 hours ago

Duration 1:18

After a tense end to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, the Edmonton Oilers have kept their dreams alive and are headed back to the city of champions for another contest against the Florida Panthers. CBC’s Nancy Carlson was on hand at Ice District in Edmonton and met up with some fans who will never lose hope.

Conventional wisdom also says that only a goalie could win the Conn Smythe on a losing team. There’s something plainly heroic about a guy standing up to a barrage of pucks from a superior foe, and four of the five losing Conn Smythe recipients manned the cage. But Leach was a forward whose stats were simply too incredible to ignore: he scored 19 (!) goals in 16 playoff games while no one else had more than eight. And his 24 points put him five ahead of the pack. Sound familiar?

It helped Leach that the top scorer on the Montreal Canadiens team that swept his Flyers, Guy Lafleur, ranked just third in goals and points. In McDavid’s case, if the Panthers win one of the next two games, they don’t really have an obvious choice for Conn Smythe either.

Early in the series, it looked like Sergei Bobrovsky was the frontrunner. But he got lit up for five goals on 16 shots in Game 4 and gave up another four last night. Matthew Tkachuk is Florida’s scoring leader and an intense competitor (see his fantastic diving save into an empty net last night) but he ranks just fourth in points with an unspectacular 22 in 22 games and trails third-place Oiler Leon Draisaitl by eight. Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov has 21 points and is one of the premier defensive forwards in hockey, but he might be falling by the wayside after two straight scoreless games.

McDavid is headed in the opposite direction. He’s the first player ever to record consecutive four-point games in the Stanley Cup final, and he’s already broken the record for most points when facing elimination in the final. And he’s not done yet.

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