EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Connor McDavid recorded his first playoff hat trick to lead the Edmonton Oilers to a 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, tying their best-of-five qualifying series at one game apiece.
McDavid scored 19 seconds into the game, then off an electrifying solo rush just past the four-minute mark, and once more on the power play late in the second period on Monday night.
“It was just our work ethic. (We) kept it simple. It sounds all very cliched, but that’s all stuff we didn’t do in game one and did tonight,” McDavid said.
Oiler forward Tyler Ennis said McDavid was the difference maker.
“Connor led the way, especially early (and) set tone for us, gave us a spark. That’s exactly what we needed and everybody followed,” said Ennis.
Given that the rink was fan-free, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, arena staff hustled down the stairs and honored hockey tradition by tossing ball caps over the glass and onto the ice to mark the hat trick.
“I found the hats a little unnecessary,” McDavid said. “I’d rather just drop the puck and keep on going.”
Game 3 is Wednesday night.
The fans, if there had been any, would barely have settled into their seats when McDavid, standing in the slot, opened the scoring when he took a bouncing loft pass from Darnell Nurse and redirected it into the net over the shoulder of Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford.
At the 4:05 mark, McDavid knocked down a stretch pass in full stride at center ice and, with his speed, blew past Chicago defenseman Olli Maatta on the backhand and flipped the puck up and over the short-side left shoulder of Crawford.
Chicago battled back, but never took the lead.
Midway through the first frame, Alex DeBrincat, circling the net, fed a backhand pass to Patrick Kane, who jumped into the play and redirected the puck low stick side on the far side past Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen.
“I thought we did a good job tonight. We were in the hole 2-0 early and came back to tie it,” Kane said.
“I think the confidence in the room was still there that we were going to come back …. (but) once they got the fifth and sixth (goals) it kinda put the game out of reach.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said the Oilers stepped their game up and Chicago didn’t respond.
“I don’t think we made things as hard on them as we did in the first game,” Toews said.
“Early in the game, we were giving (McDavid) some Grade-A chances and he’s not making any mistakes.”
Edmonton restored the two-goal advantage less than two minutes into the second period. Tyler Ennis, high up in the slot near the blue line, delivered a wrist shot that found its way through traffic and through the legs of a screened Crawford.
At the 4:22 mark, defenseman Slater Koekkoek jumped into the high slot, took a pass from DeBrincat and wristed the puck under the blocker side arm of Koskinen.
With less than five minutes to go in the second, Maatta wristed the puck from the blue line. The puck knuckled its way through bodies in the slot, bounced off the shin pad of Oiler defenseman Kris Russell and trickled past Koskinen.
Edmonton regained the lead with McDavid’s hat trick. On the power play with under three minutes to go in the second, McDavid fired the puck along the ice from a sharp angle that deflected off the skate of Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith, between Crawford’s legs and in.
Edmonton put the game away midway through the third period when Crawford came out to play the puck behind his net, but bobbled it. James Neal swooped in, stole it and backhanded it into the empty net for a 5-3 lead.
Forty seconds later, Alex Chiasson scored from a sharp angle on a goalmouth scramble to make it 6-3.
Chicago’s top line of Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, and Dominik Kubalik, which torched the Oilers for 10 points in Saturday’ win, were held in check.
Kubalik, the 24-year-old Czech rookie, scored two goals and added three assists in the first game but was held scoreless this time around.
Edmonton outshot Chicago 35-26, after being outshot 42-29 in the opener.
McDavid, the NHL’s second-leading scorer in the regular season (34 goals, 97 points), had a goal and two assists in the opening game but he, along with the rest of his team, had been roundly criticized for getting outhustled and outmuscled by the lower-ranked Hawks in a 6-4 loss in Saturday’s opener.
NOTES: The main lineup change for Edmonton was power forward Zack Kassian. Kassian, ineffective to the point of being invisible on McDavid’s top line in game one, was punted down to the fourth line, with fourth liner Josh Archibald taking his place alongside McDavid.
Game 3 is Wednesday night.
For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports