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Historic Game 7 tonight between Edmonton, Florida to decide Stanley Cup Final

Oilers players celebrate their win over the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final on Friday in Edmonton, Alberta, with a stick salute to their fans. The Oilers forced tonight’s Game 7 with the victory. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

SUNRISE, Fla. — Connor McDavid admired and looked up to Sidney Crosby as the kind of player he wanted to become one day.

But when McDavid was pretending as a kid to score the goal to win the Stanley Cup, he always imagined himself being in that position.

“You’re not sure you’re ever going to get that opportunity,” McDavid said. “Here we are with that opportunity.”

That opportunity is only possible after McDavid led the Edmonton Oilers back from a 3-0 deficit in the final to set up Game 7 against the Florida Panthers tonight with hockey’s hallowed trophy at stake.

He and his teammates are now on the verge of completing one of the biggest comebacks in sports history, attempting to block out the ramifications to focus on accomplishing something not done in the NHL since 1942.

“It’s not your ordinary game, everybody understands that, but you’ve got to make it as ordinary as possible in your head,” McDavid said after practice Sunday, the Oilers’ final one of the season. “Our room has done a great job of being at our best in these big moments, and I would expect no different.”

McDavid has been at his best in the biggest moments of his first trip to the Cup final, recording four points apiece in Games 4 and 5 to keep Edmonton from getting swept and then dragging the Panthers back across North America to Alberta for a Game 6 the Oilers won on home ice without him getting on the scoresheet.

The reigning and three-time league MVP has not been held without a point in back-to-back games this entire playoff run, and McDavid is the biggest X-factor on the big stage. Veteran winger Corey Perry, a Cup champion in 2007 who’s in his third final in four years, said McDavid “can do magical things at any point in the game.”

“Every game we go into, we know we have the best player in the world on our side,” said Leon Draisaitl, McDavid’s longtime running mate and an MVP in his own right who assisted on the opening goal in Game 6. “But this league is really, really hard to just go through one player or two or three players. You need a whole team, and I think we’ve shown that.”

Forward Mattias Janmark called McDavid the catalyst and the face of this rally in the final, but with Selke Trophy winner as the best defensive forward Aleksander Barkov on the other side, along with elite goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, it will likely take more than just their captain’s magic to finish a job last done more than 80 years ago.

Draisaitl acknowledged being human comes with thoughts drifting to the big picture, the idea of joining the ’42 Maple Leafs in the record books. Teammate Connor Brown called it “a chance to finish the script that we’ve been writing.”

It’s a script the Panthers would love to flip after taking the first three games of the series and being one win away from sweeping their way to the first championship in franchise history. Not much has gone right since.

“Doesn’t matter how it’s gone or how you draw it up,” Florida winger Matthew Tkachuk said. “This is an absolutely incredible, incredible opportunity. So, yes, you want to recognize or remember some of the good things that helped you beat these guys earlier in the series, but I’m trying to forget all of it. Just go in there and win one game. This is what it comes down to.”

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch foreshadowed this the morning of Game 4, when he said he was “really excited for the next 10 days” hours before his team faced elimination for the first time. What sounded delusional then has now become prescient: wins of 8-1, 5-3 and 5-1 to outscore the Panthers 18-5 and send the series back to South Florida, where few expected more hockey to be played this season.

“I don’t think there was ever a moment in that dressing room that they didn’t think they had a chance,” Knoblauch said.

Here is that chance, for McDavid to hoist the Cup in the same building he was drafted in nine years ago, to end Canada’s title drought at 31 years and 30 seasons and to varnish a legacy as hockey’s greatest player that is missing only being atop the NHL for the first time.

“We’re excited about it,” McDavid said. “We’ve worked hard to put ourself in this position, and it’s a great opportunity for our group and we’re looking forward to 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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