McDavid and the Oilers drag Panthers back to Edmonton for a Stanley Cup Final Game 6

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Connor McDavid wanted the Edmonton Oilers to drag the Florida Panthers back to Alberta, then he did everything in his power to make that happen.

McDavid scored twice, including the empty-netter to seal it, and set up two goals to keep the Stanley Cup Final going with a 5-3 victory in Game 5 Tuesday night — avoiding elimination and sending the series all the way back across North America. Game 6 is Friday in Edmonton.

“I love playing in the playoffs,” McDavid said. “I love playing with this group. It’s been a fun ride, and we’re glad it’s going to go one more day. But that’s all we’ve earned here: Another day, another flight. We’ll be ready to go in Edmonton on Friday.”

With back-to-back four-point performances, McDavid joined Wayne Gretzky in 1985 as the only players to have four or more in two games of a final. His eight over this span are the most for a player in consecutive games for a team on the brink.

“Connor doing Connor things,” said linemate Zach Hyman, who scored his playoff-leading 15th goal with an assist from McDavid. “That’s what makes him special. He’s able to elevate his game at the most important time, the biggest reason why we’ve come so far. We’re not here without him. He continues to drive the bus.”

“Drag them back to Alberta” became the Oilers’ rallying cry, started by McDavid after he led the way in avoiding a sweep and echoed by Connor Brown hours before puck drop in Sunrise. Brown, the other Connor, scored short-handed five minutes in after Stuart Skinner made several big-time saves on the first few shifts as the Panthers opened with a strong push in their second chance to hoist the Cup.

That will have to wait thanks to the Edmonton power play that was 0 for the series at 5 on 4 building the lead with goals by Hyman and Corey Perry, each one assisted on by McDavid.

“He puts this team on his back,” Perry said. “When we’re against the wall, he puts us on his back and he plays. You see why he is the best player.”

Retired referee Kerry Fraser, who worked the final 12 times during his lengthy career, posted on social media, “Connor McDavid reminds me of how Mark Messier could take over a playoff game and ultimately a series.” Fraser referenced Messier carrying the Oilers to the Cup in 1990 — the franchise’s last championship, which capped that dynasty’s run of five in seven years.

McDavid now has 42 points on this run. Only Gretzky (twice) and Mario Lemieux have more in a single postseason. His 42nd into the empty net with 19 seconds left set off the Oilers’ victory song, “La Bamba,” playing all over Edmonton.

“We believe,” fan Trevor Savage said after watching Game 5. “We all knew it was possible. We knew Connor could lead us. We knew the team was going to be ready, and we’re just excited for Game 6 back home.”

McDavid did not do the dragging by himself.

Brown’s goal made Edmonton the first time since the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins (Mario Lemieux and Bob Errey) to score short-handed in back-to-back games in the final. And Skinner, whose play coming into the series looked like the biggest uncertainty, stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced.

Meanwhile, the Oilers again got to Sergei Bobrovsky, three nights after chasing him from Game 4 midway through an 8-1 rout. McDavid’s goal in particular Tuesday night from a tight angle, a soft one to give up by the goaltender everyone just calls “Bob.”

More shaky Bobrovsky when the series shifts back to Edmonton could set the stage for a comeback not seen in more than 80 years. The Oilers became just the third team in Cup final history and first since New Jersey in 2012 to fall behind 3-0 and win the next two games, and the only team to come all the way back to win it all was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s been a crazy story this whole year,” Hyman said. “We’ve got to continue to write it. It doesn’t make for a good story unless you finish it.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

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