Playoff loss provides learning experience for McDavid, Oilers

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid reacts after the Oilers’ 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of a second-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid didn’t want to talk about his own play after his team’s 2-1 Game 7 second-round loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

McDavid was asked twice about his performance but he just wanted to discuss the team and the way he thought the Oilers played in their first postseason experience since 2006.

“We battled hard up and down the lineup. We battled hard,” McDavid said. “That’s a good team over there. I don’t think many people gave us much of a chance this series to even take it seven (games) and quite honestly we might not should have even been at seven. The team battled hard like I keep saying, but it’s just frustrating right now.”

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While McDavid didn’t want to talk much about himself, some of the Oilers were more than happy to share their opinions on their young captain. They saw a young player fight through dogged checks of more experienced opponents to push for goals. They also saw him show his leadership chops by calming the group after a demoralizing loss in Game 5.

The 20-year-old McDavid didn’t score at the level he did during the regular season where he had 100 points in 82 games to lead the NHL. But the Oilers said there was far more to his overall play than the nine points in 13 games in his first postseason experience.

“Connor McDavid’s play, I thought he was tremendous. I thought he did everything he possibly could and played (almost 25 minutes) tonight. He was our leader,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “He did many, many things that you guys don’t see. There was a little glimpse of it here after the comeback here in Anaheim when he took care of the team but there’s a lot done for a 20-year-old captain that nobody sees. His play speaks for itself. We wouldn’t be at this spot without him and the rest of the team. We learned we can’t just win with one individual, so I thought he was tremendous.”

In Game 7, McDavid didn’t notch a point, fired one shot on goal and played 24:45. He sparked a flurry near the end of the second period that almost gave Edmonton a 2-1 lead, but couldn’t quite get the puck in the net.

During the series, when McDavid had open ice he generally made plays but he was hounded by Ducks center Ryan Kesler, one of the best defensive forwards in hockey, for almost the entirety of the seven games.

“It’s a big experience for him. I mean Kesler did a hell of a series. That was his job to take Connor down but I think he was a tremendous leader because he knew he was going to get Kesler every single second out there,” Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom said of McDavid. “He has been doing everything he can to get the other players going. It has been very interesting. I have a huge respect for Connor just the way Kesler (played him).”

Could McDavid have done more offensively? Perhaps, but he also learned the difficulties of scoring in the playoffs. He knew it would be tough and he received a crash course about how to remain productive despite limited space.

“I thought he handled it really well and he can probably take a lot from this series and keep growing as a player,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said.

Really, all the Oilers learned a lot about the playoffs in this run, and they may have learned the most in Game 7 against the veteran Ducks. Edmonton got the first goal of the game and carried the play in the first period. But once the second period started, the Ducks out-shot the Oilers 23-11 and found an extra gear to tie the game, take the lead, then close out their opponent.

“I mean they came together as a group and played a very strong system game,” Klefbom said. “The way they played the neutral zone, it was probably their best game tonight. We have guys with a lot of speed but it’s very tough to play against team who is just lined up in the neutral zone and you cannot get the forecheck going. It’s something we’re going to take experience of and try to beat them next year hopefully.”

In the Edmonton locker room after the game, there was a sense of disappointment, but it wasn’t downright dejection. They know what they did wrong, they know what they can do better and they believe they’ll be prepared next season.

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Winning a round against the San Jose Sharks and then taking the Ducks to seven games was a nice first step in what they hope is a long open window of Stanley Cup opportunity.

“It’s one of those things where you have to give credit to our team,” Oilers forward Patrick Maroon said. “I think we came a long way and our coaching staff has put a team together and our GM has put a team together to win a Stanley Cup. We’re capable of doing it. The future is so bright with this team and it’s exciting to look forward to.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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