Connor McDavid dominates as Oilers win Game 5 of Stanley Cup Finals

Sunrise, Fla. – Connor McDavid’s words turned into a rallying cry after the Edmonton Oilers beat the Florida Panthers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

“We’ve got to go to Florida,” he said, “do a job and drag them back to Alberta.”

The Oilers did just that with a 5-3 win in Game 5 on Tuesday night at Amerant Bank Arena. It wasn’t as dominant as Saturday’s 8-1 demolition, but they did more than enough — led by McDavid’s two goals and two assists — to stay alive. They need two more wins to reach Stanley Cup glory.

The Oilers led 3-0 and 4-1 in the second period, but had to fend off a furious comeback attempt by the Panthers, who pulled within a goal early in the third. Stuart Skinner made 29 saves for the Oilers. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 19 shots for Florida.

“It was a total effort by everybody,” McDavid said. “The special teams were obviously better. The penalty kill, there’s nothing else to say. They’ve been good. [Connor Brown] Scored a great goal to settle us. Five-five, that’s all we’ve done. It is a total team effort from top to bottom.

The Panthers started Game 5 on home ice looking like a team seeking its first Stanley Cup title, but Skinner’s talent continued during Florida’s many intense, high-pressure turnovers, starting with Aaron Ekplat’s steal in Game 4.

A penalty against Brett Gulak at just 4:47 felt like it would provide the release the home crowd had been waiting for. Instead, in the middle of the power play, Brown stole the puck at the blue line and beat Bobrovsky with a patient backhander. For the second game in a row, Edmonton opened the scoring on a shorthanded putt.

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“The difference tonight was special teams,” Oilers coach Chris Knoblauch said. “I think we were plus-3 tonight on special teams targets. That will definitely help our team.

After Brown’s tally, the Panthers registered just one more shot on goal in the remaining 14:30. And Nico Mikkola was whistled for interference at the horn, giving the Oilers a power play to start the second period.

Edmonton’s vaunted power play had yet to click into gear in the Finals — its lone power-play tally in Game 4 came at five-on-three — and for 1 minute 58 seconds, it looked like the trend would continue. But a point by Evan Bouchard (three assists) deflected off Zach Hyman in front of the net and past Bobrowski for the man advantage with two seconds left, putting the Oilers up 2-0.

McDavid made it 3-0 when he threw Bobrowski three minutes later, which sent the Panthers out — and the likelihood of another 2,500-mile flight to Alberta loomed large.

Evan Rodrigues stole the puck along the boards, fed it to Tkachuk with a low head of steam in the zone, then Matthew Tkachuk’s quick-release finish on Skinner 1:53 later got Florida on the board.

But a hooking penalty on Kyle Okboso at 10:02 put Edmonton’s newfound confidence on the power play back to work, and McDavid did what he does best on the rush, turning the Panthers inside when he drove to the net and dished to Corey Perry. Tap at 11:54.

Rodriguez responded with his fourth goal of the series 14 seconds later, but Florida could get no closer with 40 minutes to go despite a strong push late in the period.

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That momentum carried into the third, and the Panthers needed just 4:04 to draw within a goal. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, playing on this stage for the first time in the 14th year of his NHL career, got a feed off Tkachuk to fuel the hopeful crowd.

Brown said the Oilers are ready for the challenge.

“We’re comfortable with one-goal games,” he said. “… I think we showed composure. They scored, they attacked us in the first five minutes. We were quiet. … I think we’re showing our maturity. We show our character as the season goes on. Our hope and confidence is increasing.

The crowd’s confidence began to wear thin as the period went untied, and tensions rose when Dmitry Kulikov was penalized for tripping, sending the Oilers back on the power play with 7:32 remaining.

Florida killed that penalty, but was given two minutes to come back by having to do so. The Panthers pulled Bobrowski for extra offense with just over 2:30 left, and McDavid hit the empty net with 17.3 seconds left to do what he wanted: pull the series back to Alberta. The goal gave McDavid his 42nd point of the postseason — and his second straight four-point game.

“I want to play in the playoffs,” McDavid said. “I love playing with this team. It’s been a fun ride and we’re excited to go one more day. But that’s all we’ve earned here: another day, another flight. We’re ready to go to Edmonton on Friday.

The odds are stacked against the Oilers as they return home for Game 6 and take their growing confidence with them. But the odds were stacked against Edmonton early in the season, a slow start led to a coaching change and a steady rise in the standings throughout the season to make the playoffs.

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Brown has had his back against the wall throughout the series, and he believes the Oilers are in better shape. Their situation is still precarious, but they don’t care about that.

“I know, a lot of people counted us out. We’ve been counted out a lot going into the playoffs, the regular season, whatever,” Knoblauch said. “That doesn’t bother the group out there. They have a lot of hope — a lot of hope — and enjoy every extra day a lot because we were counted out a long time ago and we’re still playing hockey here in June. We head back to Edmonton for Game 6. There’s a lot to laugh about.

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