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JPat: One win away, Canucks have placed all the pressure on Connor McDavid

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
26 days ago
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The Vancouver Canucks haven’t won anything yet in their second round series with the Edmonton Oilers. But they have accomplished this much: by winning Game 5 in dramatic fashion and taking a 3-2 series lead, they have placed the weight of the world on Connor McDavid’s shoulders. 
Forget a long weekend, it will be an excruciatingly long summer if McDavid doesn’t make himself known and do a whole lot more than he’s done over the past three games in this matchup. 
McDavid has a goal and five assists through the first five games of this series. However, four of those points came in Game 2 when he looked the part of the best player on the planet. But since then – and it feels like a long time ago – McDavid has just one point in his last 180 minutes of hockey. It was a power play helper on Leon Draisaitl’s goal that opened the scoring in Game 4 of this series. Other than that, McDavid has been held in check and has been held off the scoresheet entirely at 5-on-5 over the past three contests.
On Thursday night, not only did he not figure in the scoring, but was also on the ice for the second and third Canuck goals. On JT Miller’s game winner in the final minute, McDavid was the closest Oiler on the ice. But he wasn’t close enough and Miller was able to swat home the loose puck that gave the Canucks a 3-2 win and a 3-2 series lead.
Legacies are forged in the playoffs. Until now, McDavid’s legacy has been one of immense individual accomplishment but on a team level nothing to show for his nine incredible seasons in the National Hockey League. He’s been to the playoffs six times and beyond the second round just once.
He and his Oilers aren’t done yet. And to bet against McDavid at any point is a fool’s game. But the way the Canucks have limited him, have forced him to the outside and, on Thursday, the way they made him defend a whole lot more than he wanted to has clearly impacted his ability to take over the past few games or the series as a whole.
McDavid gets another chance on Saturday night. But if it doesn’t happen for him, if it doesn’t happen for his hockey club, some pointed questions are surely going to be asked about his ability to get his team over the playoff hump.
And now he plays perhaps the most pressure-filled game of his career. In years gone by, he was young, he was learning, he was a superstar on a flawed team. And that wasn’t his fault. But this is different. He’s 27 now. He’s not just a man, he’s the man. And he’s the captain of a team built to win the Stanley Cup. Now. This was supposed to be the Oilers’ year. And yet here they are trailing the Vancouver Canucks – of all teams – and are now flat out of opportunities for any further missteps with their playoff lives hanging in the balance.
McDavid hasn’t been terrible in this series. But that’s no kind of baseline for the best player on the planet. The Oilers need him to rise above and it has to happen on Saturday. And if it does, then he’ll have to do it again in Monday’s Game 7, too. But the Canucks will attempt to continue to do what they’ve done throughout this series to frustrate McDavid and keep him in check.
Give JT Miller credit for taking the match-up head on. Give Carson Soucy and Tyler Myers their due, as well, for using their length and reach to be disruptive whenever McDavid is on the ice.
It’s taken a total team effort to limit McDavid’s impact in four of the five games of this series so far.
“Without being disrespectful, the last couple of games me, Brock and Sutes have been kind of giving Connor a little too much respect and playing not to get scored on a little bit and when you do that he just gets more time with the puck,” Miller explained after Game 5’s triumph. “I thought we just went back to playing our game and being more aggressive. We were able to extend some o-zone shifts. I think we did a good job in the second. We didn’t cross our red line very often. That’s what you want to do to teams, shrink the ice and I think we were able to do that.”
If they can do it one more time on Saturday, the Canucks stand a strong chance of advancing in a series few gave them a chance to win at the outset. The hockey world may have had some questions about various parts of the Oilers game, but Connor McDavid’s role in it wasn’t one of them. Until it was.
And so with the Canucks and Oilers having the stage to themselves on Saturday, all eyes will be on McDavid to see what he has in store. In the three Canucks victories in the series, he’s been held to just a secondary assist in Game 1.
Pressure does strange things to people, even the best professional athletes who have trained for these moments. But it can also spur them on to find another level. 
The Canucks have boxed McDavid and the Oilers into a corner. We’ll see on Saturday, if this exceptional talent can find a path forward. No big deal, just a team, a city, its fanbase – and maybe even an era of Oilers hockey – are depending on it.
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