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Unstoppable, unmissable Connor McDavid reaches Stanley Cup Final. Don’t blink

EDMONTON — You’re Miro Heiskanen. You’re one of the best defensemen in the world. And not that modern kind of “defenseman” who is basically a fourth forward on the ice, racking up most of his Norris Trophy votes in the offensive zone. You’re a Defense Man. You play defense, man. Better than probably all but a handful of guys alive today. You know what you’re doing out there.

So when you see Connor McDavid take a pass from Leon Draisaitl up top, you prepare accordingly. You know his speed. You know his shot. You know his creativity. And as he blows by Sam Steel — a very good penalty killer, mind you — around the outside by simply barreling through a helpless stick check, you start to turn to the outside. McDavid is going out wide, to attack the net from the side. Maybe he’ll try to stuff it in the corner, maybe he’ll try to wheel around the cage and do a wraparound, maybe he’ll try one of those reverse-VH-busting sharp-angle roof jobs that are all the rage these days. But he’s going out wide.

There’s no other way for him to go, right?

Suddenly, McDavid stops on a dime and it’s already over. You’re toast. You have to turn your neck 90 degrees to the left just to see the guy, and all you see is a blue-and-orange blur vanishing from your peripheral vision. You sort of stick your backside out in a futile attempt to knock him off balance, but he’s already pulled the puck back and dragged it all the way across your body, wedging his way like a seasoned spelunker through an impossibly narrow path between you and Steel, who’s still hopelessly trying to catch up.

By the time you whip your head around and offer a desperate one-handed stick flail at where you think — guess? hope? — McDavid might be, the puck is already in the net, McDavid having somehow placed the puck with pinpoint precision over the left shoulder of Jake Oettinger — no slouch himself in goal — with a shovel maneuver. Not a wrist shot. Not a clean backhand in open space. Not a tuck job. A shovel. The guy looked like he was mucking a stall at Belmont, and he still got off a perfect, unstoppable, unbelievable shot.

By the time you spin all the way around, all you can do is slump your shoulders and then shrug them half-heartedly, you and Steel and Esa Lindell and Wyatt Johnston loitering around the crease exchanging blank glances wordlessly, as if to say, “What the hell just happened?”

“Tried to get to the middle of the rink, and that was the best way I thought possible,” McDavid said with a literal shrug.

Yeah. Ho-hum.

McDavid added a delicate little saucer pass to tee up Zach Hyman’s power-play goal later in the first period. That was enough for a 2-1 Game 6 victory that sent the Dallas Stars home. That’s how you win a game in which you’re outshot 35-10, a record low in shots and a record high in shot differential for a series clincher. That’s how you defeat consecutive division champions to reach the Stanley Cup Final. That’s how you get one step closer to living up to the impossible hype that accompanied you into the league nearly a decade ago. Well, that and a penalty kill that’s somehow killed off 28 straight power plays, and a goaltender in Stuart Skinner who’s playing well above expectations, and a first-year coach in Kris Knoblauch who’s pushed all the right buttons, and having another of the five best players in the world in Draisaitl on the same power-play unit as you, and, well, OK. The Edmonton Oilers have a lot going for them.

But every team has a lot going for it this time of year. But they don’t have McDavid. Nobody does. Nobody ever has. And finally, after nine seasons of this human highlight GIF toiling in the relative obscurity of northern Alberta — pretty much as far from American prime-time television as possible, thanks to a general lack of vision from American rights holders  — McDavid gets to ply his trade and fly and evade in front of the biggest audience possible.

He’s earned it, and the hockey world deserves it. We all deserve to see the best on the biggest stage.

The best ever? Well, hockey protocol dictates that a Stanley Cup is a requirement for inclusion in that conversation, so maybe we have to wait a couple of weeks. Or, you know what, maybe we don’t. Look, there’s always a recency bias at play, but go watch what an NHL goaltender looked like in the early 1980s, all 5-foot-something, playing that awkward stand-up style with scrawny little pads. Imagine what this McDavid would do against those goalies, against all the pylons that used to populate the league. Sure, he’d be headhunted every night by the fourth-line goons that used to roam the hockey world like plodding dinosaurs, but could they even get within a neutral zone of the guy?

It feels wildly hyperbolic to say that nobody else in the history of the game could have scored that goal in that way, but then again, is it? Why do we always feel compelled to check ourselves, to qualify, to couch, to waffle, to fence sit? This is a talent we’ve never seen, doing things we never thought possible. It’s hockey heresy to say that McDavid is the greatest hockey player who’s ever lived, because it’s hockey heresy to say he’s even the greatest Edmonton Oiler who’s ever lived. Wayne Gretzky was the most dominant athlete in the history of North American team sports. Full stop. One of one. The greatest career ever.

But could he do that?

Can we at least acknowledge McDavid is the most talented, the most gifted, the most jaw-dropping hockey player who ever lived? That’s not hyperbolic. That’s obvious. That’s right in front of us. Say it out loud. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. What a time to be a hockey fan. What a time to be alive.

“That was nice — seen it before, but nice,” Draisaitl deadpanned, while hundreds of delirious fans chanted “We want the Cup!” shaking the windows that peer into the Oilers’ news conference room at Rogers Place from 104 Avenue. “There’s one player in the world that can make things like that happen.”

One player. One player in this game. In this league. In this world. Maybe in this sport’s history.

The grandest stage awaits, and it’ll be a must-see. With McDavid, it always is.

(Photo: Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)

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