Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers pursues Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 10, 2017, at Rogers Place in Edmonton.CODIE MCLACHLAN / GETTY IMAGES
It was arguably a game with more sizzle involved than any game in Edmonton since June 17, 2006.
It was most certainly the kind of night you’ve been waiting an entire decade to experience.
When Edmonton fans entered Rogers Place Friday evening, it was prime time in an NHL hockey season for the first time since that 2006 Stanley Cup final.
It was a smorgasbord of delicious scenarios.
It was the defending Stanley Cup champions in a battle with Washington, Columbus and the New York Rangers for position in the Metropolitan Division.
You wanted meaningful hockey on March 10?
The night before, Anaheim, Calgary, Los Angeles and San Jose had all won. The Ducks moved two points up on the Oilers for second place in the Pacific, the Flames moved into a tie with Edmonton for third.
There was no longer any dodging it for Todd McLellan’s hockey team. It was now prime time – time for desperation hockey and time to answer the question: ‘What are you made of?’
It was the first time that Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid would play a game against each other in Edmonton.
There was the scoring race with the youngest captain in the history of the NHL, McDavid, going into the game with 74 points and the Penguins’ Crosby and Evgeny Malkin tied at 70 along with Brent Burns, Patrick Kane and Brad Marchand.
With 15 games to go in a season, how does a scoring race for the Art Ross Trophy get any better than that?
While no Oilers are involved, there was also the goal scoring race for the Rocket Richard Trophy with Crosby going into the game with 34, Patrik Laine and Marchand at 32, Malkin, Auston Matthews, Max Pacioretty at 31, three others at 30, two more at 29, three more at 28 and five at 27.
And, there was also the Hart Trophy. Would voters give it to McDavid if he could lead the Oilers to a playoff spot, particularly if it were one opening at home, after finishing 28th last year?
Game 67 for the Oilers and Game No. 999 this NHL season wasn’t going to decide any of that. But you had to play it like it might.
It didn’t just set up as a big game for the Oilers, but for their fans as well. If there was any question how the fans would be in the new arena when it came to a playoff game, we were likely to find out during a game that set-up like this one. Would they bring it?
You could feel the excitement and taste the apprehension in the building before the game. And the fans, with a little help from the scoreboard, brought it for the first minute. It wasn’t 2006 all over again. But there was a buzz that never left the building and it built and built and built. By the third period, there was incredible energy in the building.
On the ice, the action was palpitating from one end to the other, for openers. And about three minutes in Oilers radio play-by-play man Jack Michaels, who sits about 10 feet from me in the press box, enthused, “Is this any good?”
It was Crosby vs. McDavid at the opening faceoff, and it stayed that way much of the night but not the entire evening.
McDavid scored first. Unfortunately, it was into his own net. No. 97 saw the puck sitting in the Oilers goal crease and kicked it out. Right into the pads of goaltender Cam Talbot. And into the net.
Malkin was given credit for the goal.
Pittsburgh had a chance to make a route of it with a power play early in the second, but the Oilers penalty kill did the job and the team began the battle back.
And it turned into a great game again with great plays and great saves galore.
Midway in the second period, Jordan Eberle drew a penalty and McDavid tied it up at 12:45 on the power play with his 23rd of the year.
The final 10 minutes of regulation was absolutely frantic.
The three-on-three overtime was even more incredible, especially when Leon Draisaitl sent McDavid in alone on a breakaway.
It was an excruciatingly exciting game, the best by far in this building and in this town for ages.
The fans stood for the entire shootout, where both Crosby and McDavid scored. Phil Kessel gave the Penquins a 3-2 win.
If this was McDavid vs. Crosby, McDavid won it big time. He was easily the most valuable and most outstanding of the two on the ice this night and probably in the entire league. Talbot, playing his 60th game of the season, was wonderful as well. And Malkin ranked right up there for Pittsburgh.