VANCOUVER -- The sweat was still dripping from Connor McDavid’s forehead when he stopped to do a postgame interview with “Hockey Night in Canada” in the bowels of raucous Rogers Place on Saturday. 

The Edmonton Oilers captain had just stepped off the ice after helping his team stave off elimination with a three-assist showing in a 5-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of their Western Conference Second Round series. The perspiration, of course, was evidence of yet another be-the-team’s-hardest-worker-so-you-can-lead-by-example performance turned in by the 27-year-old.

Of course, he didn’t want to talk about himself. Connor McDavid doesn’t like to talk about Connor McDavid. That’s just not his way.

“I was hoping to be part of a win. That’s all,” he told interviewer Gene Principe matter-of-factly. “We had all 20 guys going tonight, and that’s good.”

Through it all, McDavid had a straight face. 

Until, that is, he was asked about Game 7 on Monday (9 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, SN, TVAS). Rogers Arena, Vancouver. Win or go home for both teams. Series tied 3-3. A matchup between two Canadian teams on a holiday weekend Monday in Canada, a night when fireworks illuminate the skies from coast to coast.

Judging by the wry grin he broke into upon mention of a seventh and deciding game, he’s looking to light off some of his own, in this case on the scoreboard. He didn’t say that. He didn’t have to. The look said it all.

“We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s obviously a great challenge. Two good teams going at it that are both playing really good hockey.”

In an environment where he’ll embrace being the villain.

“In enemy territory, it’s fun,” McDavid said. “Great chance for our group to come together and go in there and get it done.”

NHL Tonight previews Oilers at Canucks Game 7

The only guarantee isn’t that the Oilers will win; it’s that their No. 97 will get booed each and every time he touches the puck by the hostile opposing crowd. It’s the type of stage superstars covet: a chance to be a difference-maker when everything is on the line.

Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has seen this scenario before. The last time Edmonton played a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was against the Los Angeles Kings in their Western Conference First Round at Rogers Place on May 14, 2022.

McDavid appeared to will the Oilers to the 2-0 victory, collecting a goal and an assist in what was his sixth multipoint performance in the seven-game series. His individual effort on his third-period goal had the superior appearance of something authored by a AAA player in a Tuesday beer league.

“He’s had some massive moments for our team,” Nugent-Hopkins said Sunday, chuckling in awe. “We all want to step up and play our very best hockey. And I know that he’s going to want to step up and play his very best too.

“Like you said, that game, he definitely took over, and then kind of in the next series (against the Calgary Flames) too. But it’s going to take everybody. We’re going to be prepared.”

Tune in to see the Oilers battle the Canucks for Western Conference Final berth

Kris Knoblauch is doing everything in his power to make sure they are. The first-year Oilers coach understands it will take much more than relying just on forwards McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the team’s two superstars, to get Edmonton over the hump against an outstanding Canucks team and advance to a Western Conference Final showdown against the Dallas Stars.

Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet has schemed a blueprint that at times has made McDavid look frustrated, with a system featuring layers of defenders that smother his patented speed-filled shifts. He was held without a point in Games 3 and 5, sparking conspiracy theories that he might be ill or banged up. Even if he was, his performance in Game 6 showed he’s still capable of performing at an elite level.

In the process, there have been brief snapshots of the trademark McDavid brilliance, none more so than his full-throttle rush in overtime of Game 2 that caused the Canucks defense to back off his zone entry, subsequently allowing Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard the space to unleash a shot off Vancouver defenseman Ian Cole for the winning goal in Edmonton’s 4-3 win.

“Look, it’s important for our team that we get a solid performance from everyone,” Knoblauch told Sunday. “And what happens when a team plays collectively well like that? You get a few individuals that have exceptional moments like that, have exceptional plays.

“Like I said, it’s important everyone comes with their A-plus games. And then, after that, you can see some remarkable moments.”

Previewing Game 7 between the Oilers and Canucks

Knoblauch has seen McDavid construct more than a few of those. As McDavid’s coach in Erie of the Ontario Hockey League from 2012-2015, he saw the then-teenager rise to the occasion over and over again when it mattered most, never more than during a 2015 playoff series against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the top-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League.

The Greyhounds came into the series with four NHL first-round picks on their roster including forward Nick Ritchie and defenseman Darnell Nurse, now McDavid’s teammate with the Oilers. They had lost just three of their previous 38 games, regular and postseason combined. No matter. McDavid lit them up for 19 points in a matchup the Otters won in six games, 4-2.

To this day, Knoblauch remains amazed by McDavid’s performance.

“We’d heard going in that this Soo team was the best in junior hockey in a decade,” Knoblauch recalled. “Well, Connor was phenomenal. I think our team as a whole played well. But we wouldn’t have had a chance if it wasn’t for what Connor did. I think he set a series record for points, and he was all that.

“In my career, no matter the league, no matter the event, I’ve never seen one player perform as well or dominate like Connor did against the Soo.”

That was then. This is now. Different league. Opponents are men with beards, not teenagers with acne.

Yet, with everything on the line Monday, Stanley Cup dreams in the balance, who has better odds to be a difference-maker a decade later than McDavid?

“No one,” said Sherwood Bassin, former Otters co-owner and a close family friend who McDavid has said was like a second father to him in Erie.

“I’ve known this kid since he was a young teenager. Even back then, he was thinking ahead of ways to win. I can guarantee you he went to bed (Sunday night) thinking of what’s going to happen, thinking the game in his mind, thinking how he’ll get his team over the hurdle, thinking what needs to be done. He’s so competitive, he’s not going to rest until he wins. I’ve been around hundreds of guys who’ve gone on to play in the NHL and I’ve never met anyone like him.

“He’s going to wake up, and hours later, try to implement all the things that went through his mind.”

In the end, will it work?

“Not necessarily,” Bassin said. “Like I said, there are no guarantees.”

He paused.

“But I can tell you this,” he said. “There will be no one on that ice who’ll be capable of changing the outcome of a game with one of those ‘wow’ moments like he can. The facts are there. He’s already proven that.

“No one.”

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