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McDavid’s crushing check changed Game 5, and maybe the Oilers’ series

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid, left, Leon Draisaitl, centre, and Zack Kassian celebrate their overtime win in Game 5 in Edmonton.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In the second period of the fifth game of the first round on Thursday night, the Oilers' season was imperilled.

With the series tied, the Sharks had scored three times unanswered and had a 3-1 lead.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton's 20-year-old captain, had been struggling to score against San Jose's tight defence, so he found another way to impose his skill on the game.

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With 6 minutes 56 seconds remaining, McDavid delivered a crushing open-ice check on San Jose's Marcus Sorensen. The left winger was skating with his head down when McDavid barrelled into him shoulder-first. Sorensen dropped, his stick flying.

The sell-out crowd at Rogers Place roared. Fans chanted "MVP." The Oilers on the bench looked charged.

The hit changed the game, and maybe the series. The energy that had belonged to the Sharks shifted the Oilers' way.

Mark Letestu scored near the end of the second period to cut the Sharks' lead to 3-2, with an assist from McDavid. Oscar Klefbom tied it with 2:46 remaining in the third. Then David Desharnais completed Edmonton's rally, flipping a puck past Martin Jones from in front of the net 18:15 into overtime.

The victory gave the Oilers a 3-2 lead in the series, with a chance to win in California on Saturday night. If a seventh game is necessary, it will be played at Rogers Place on Monday. Amid the celebration afterward, McDavid's thunderous hit was lost.

"It was a tipping point," Ron MacLean, the Hockey Night in Canada host, said Friday. "It showed push-back and relentlessness and lifted the whole bench. It showed he would do anything to help his team win the game.

"It was huge."

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MacLean said it reminded him of two playoff series that suddenly turned.

In 2006, Raffi Torres delivered a vicious open-ice check on Milan Michalek in Game 2 of the Oilers-Sharks second-round playoff series. The Oilers lost that night, but sparked by the hit, went on to win the next four games, and made it to the Stanley Cup final.

In 2010, the Flyers' Mike Richards caught the Bruins' David Krejci skating with his head down during Game 3 of the second round, and knocked him out of the game and the rest of the series. The Flyers went on to win, and also reached the Stanley Cup final.

The play caught the attention of Nick Kypreos, now a hockey analyst with Sportsnet. A tough left winger in his day, Kypreos played eight seasons in the NHL, accumulating 90 points and 1,210 penalty minutes in 442 regular-season games.

"I thought it was a great moment for [McDavid] to be able to do something like that," Kypreos said. "It showed another side to him that a lot of people didn't think he had.

"You can change the feel of a game with that type of hit. You don't see many like that anymore."

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The Art Ross Trophy-winner as the NHL's leading scorer with 100 points, McDavid is known for his blazing speed and preternatural puck-handling. In this series, he has had four hits in two games. He delivered his biggest hit to tip the series in the Oilers' favour. He didn't talk about it, but it was no accident. The hit was strategic and intentional.

"I don't see it so much about him going outside of his comfort zone, as much as I do him adding a dimension to his game," Kypreos said. "I am sure right now the Sharks' players are thinking, 'I didn't know he could do that.'"

McDavid has one goal and two assists through five games, but the Oilers have the series lead.

"I am sure guys are saying, 'As if I didn't have enough to worry about with him, now I have to keep my head up,'" Kypreos said.

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