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Connor McDavid led the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final. They need even more from him to stay alive

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Connor McDavid led the Edmonton Oilers out of a horrendous start, all the way to the playoffs and into the Stanley Cup Final.

When Darnell Nurse was being criticized in the third round for his struggles, McDavid jumped to his defense. When Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett and the Florida Panthers ganged up on Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it was McDavid — a player not known for being in the fray after the whistle — who pushed his way in and took a few uppercuts for his trouble.

“It says a lot about him as a leader,” Hyman said. “I got hit in the head by Bennett, and I think he was the first one in there. He sticks up for his teammates and he’s not afraid to get into a scrum.”

The 27-year-old McDavid called it just a chance to “do my part.”

He has done more than his part to get Edmonton to this point as the leading scorer in the NHL playoffs with 38 points and the unquestioned leader as the face of the franchise and best player in hockey. The longtime captain, now in his nith NHL season, has had fingerprints all over this long run, capped so far by a four-point performance to keep his team from getting swept.

More of that McDavid magic might be needed with the Oilers down 3-1 going into Game 5 on Tuesday night at Florida.

“Any time our team’s backs are against the wall, he’s the first guy to push back,” Hyman said. "For us to come back, he’s got to be he best. He seems to always be the best when we’re in these situations.”

The whole league has seen it.

When the Oilers faced elimination the first time this postseason in Game 6 of the second round against Vancouver, McDavid had three assists. When they fell behind 2-1 to Dallas in the Western Conference final, yep, three more assists.

That's why no one around the team was surprised — impressed, sure — when McDavid had a goal and three assists in Game 4 with Edmonton on the brink.

“That’s what the great ones do — they lead,” said teammate Connor Brown, who first played with McDavid a decade ago in junior with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. “He’s one of the greats. He leads by example. He leads with his words, leads by example. When you need a shift, when you need a play, he pulls it out time and time again.”

McDavid, a three-time MVP who has led the league in points five times and and in goals once and been a first-team All-Star six times, has accomplished just about everything on an individual basis. The latest was reaching 32 assists, breaking Wayne Gretzky's record for the most in a single postseason.

With his mind solely on hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time, he downplayed adding something else to the history books.

“Obviously not the focus with where we’re at, but not lost on me what he means to the game,” McDavid said. “Not the focus.”

McDavid's focus is on team success. Those closest to him on a daily basis see it the most in practice.

“(It's about) just how much he cares, how much he works," said forward Dylan Holloway, who scored twice in Game 4. "He’s smart with the way he goes about it, and he always puts in max effort. Every rep in practice, he’s dialed in. He’s not kind of lollygagging, no matter how tired he is. I know he’s tired, too, because he plays so much and practice the next day. I’m tired and I play half what he plays, but he’s so dialed in practice.”

McDavid was the biggest reason the Oilers made the final, and now it's squarely on his shoulders to, as McDavid said, drag the Panthers back to Alberta.

“It’s not an accident he is the player he is,” Brown said. “He works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. Night in, night out he competes as hard as he can. He’s our best player, and he competes the hardest. We’re lucky to have him."

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