Connor McDavid is within reach of a milestone that could go down in hockey history.
McDavid needs seven points in Edmonton’s final five games to reach 100 in 56 games during this pandemic-shortened NHL season. Getting there would be an achievement remembered alongside Wayne Gretzky’s 50 goals in 39 games, but the Oilers captain is far more worried about the 16 victories needed to win the Stanley Cup than the chase for 100 points.
”It’s a number,” McDavid said. ”If I get there, great. If not, it’s not the end of the world, either. The most important thing is our team is gearing up for the playoffs and making sure we’re firing on all cylinders in Game 1.”
The reigning league MVP wants to make sure 100 happens. Leon Draisaitl, who scored two goals Tuesday night with assists from McDavid, said the Oilers as a team are determined to get him to the milestone.
”He does so much for our team,” said Draisaitl, who is a distant second in the scoring race behind McDavid, with 75 points. ”He does so much for us on a nightly basis that the least we can do is help him out as much as we can. It might not be that important to him, but it sure is important to us for him to get to that point.”
McDavid is eager to shift focus to the postseason, a place the world’s best hockey player has really only been once in six pro seasons. Edmonton fizzled out in the expanded, 24-team bubble playoffs last year, and that only fired up McDavid more to get into the round of 16 and beyond.
The result has been a points-per-game average topped only 23 times since the expansion era began in 1967. The list of those seasons is full of Hall of Famers, including Gretzky (11 times) and Mario Lemieux (6).
”He’s proven very difficult to keep off the scoresheet this year, and he plays the right way every night,” Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie said. ”He hasn’t taken any nights off, which is pretty incredible. It’s been impressive to watch this year and fun to be a part of.”
McDavid is the leading candidate to succeed Draisaitl as winner of the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, which he won the first time in 2017 when Edmonton made a run to the Western Conference final. He led the league with 100 points that season and had 108 the next year.
Getting 100 in 56 games would be on another level. With the Oilers all but locked into second place in the North Division, McDavid’s race to 100 is the last notable goal during the regular season.
”We’re going to try to get him there as best we can, but he can get ‘er done on his own if he needs to,” Barrie said.
Coach Dave Tippett said this season will be a memorable one regardless of the 24-year-old center’s points total. Perennial postseason success is the next thing in reach for the Oilers.
”He’s the captain and the leader of our team; he wants our team to play well,” Tippett said. ”He wants to be a playoff team year after year and give himself a chance to win the Stanley Cup, so he’s very motivated.”
Goaltender Michael Houser is six years removed from being an American Hockey League regular, and his last start came March 7, 2020, with Cincinnati of the ECHL. That only made Houser’s 34-save victory in his NHL debut Monday night for Buffalo all the more of an accomplishment, and he followed that up with a 45-save win Tuesday.
”I was really excited to play behind six NHL defensemen,” Houser said. ”Any time you’re in the (ECHL) it seems like it’s quite a jump to get there. … But they always tell you to stay ready.”
RACE FOR HOME ICE
A handful of teams are still in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Carolina is firmly in the driver’s seat after back-to-back victories, especially after Vegas blew a 5-3 lead and lost at Minnesota on Monday night.
Florida, Tampa Bay, Colorado, Toronto, Washington and Minnesota are also in contention near the end of a season with no crossover play out of division. Who’s the best team? No one really knows.
GAME OF THE WEEK
St. Louis visits Vegas on Saturday in what could be a preview of a first-round series in the West.
Goals: Auston Matthews (Toronto), 39; Assists: McDavid 62; Points: McDavid, 93; Ice time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 26:38; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 39; Goals-against average: Jeremy Swayman (Boston), 1.62; Save percentage: Filip Gustavsson (Ottawa), .944.
AP freelance writer Joe Yerdon in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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