If Blackhawks don't figure out way to contain McDavid, this series could be over quickly
Drake Caggiula has known Connor McDavid since both were in high school.
Over time, the two became close enough that Caggiula reached out to McDavid after his senior year at the University of North Dakota in 2016 to inquire what it was like to play for the Oilers.
At the time, there were a half-dozen NHL teams courting Caggiula, who helped UND to a national championship by scoring 25 goals in just 39 games.
But -- thanks in part to McDavid -- it was the Oilers who won out by inking the forward to a two-year deal on May 7, 2016.
For the next 2½ years, Caggiula owned a "front-row seat" as he watched McDavid work his magic night in and night out across the NHL.
"He was great as a young captain," Caggiula said before the Hawks and Oilers resumed their best-of-five series Wednesday in Edmonton. "I leaned on him and asked him a lot of questions on how I could better my game. I was able to learn quite a bit."
What the Hawks have learned in a hurry is that McDavid can exploit even a sliver of space and make you pay. Give him a gaping hole or wide-open ice and you can pretty much forget about it. That's exactly what happened just four minutes into Edmonton's Game 2 victory when McDavid scored a remarkable goal to make it 2-0.
After dribbling a bouncing puck from center ice and all the way into his offensive zone, McDavid used his left hand to steer defenseman Olli Maatta to the side, and somehow lifted a perfect shot over Corey Crawford's left shoulder.
All while moving at lightning speed.
"He must have whacked that thing three or four times," Oilers coach Dave Tippett said, "but he knew exactly what he was doing every time he was touching it until it finally laid down. ... To make a shot like that -- when you're going that speed and the puck has been bouncing around -- that's elite talent."
Talent that could end this series in a hurry if the Hawks don't get it under control. McDavid had 4 goals and 2 assists in the first two games before Wednesday's late Game 3.
Slowing McDavid down is obviously no easy task, especially considering he has 146 goals in his last 306 regular-season games. But Caggiula did offer up one thought when asked what crack may be in McDavid's armor.
"I guess the one way you can play against him is be physical and just try not to let him build up his speed," said Caggiula, who was traded to the Hawks for Brandon Manning in the middle of the 2018-19 season. "Because once he gets that going it's almost impossible to catch him and contain him. He's a big, strong guy. He's hockey strong, he's strong on his skates.
"It's hard to play him physical anyway. But if that's what you want to call a crack in his armor, I guess that's what you would call it."
Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton has the last line change in Games 3 and 4, so he's more likely to get the matchups he wants to try and contain McDavid, as well as Hart Trophy finalist Leon Draisaitl.
Getting Caggiula back should help as well. The gritty, fiesty forward was suspended for Game 2 after an illegal check to Tyler Ennis' head.
"I don't necessarily agree with it, but I also respect the decision and I totally respect the fact that we want to protect players' heads and safety," Caggiula said. "I know what the standard is now. ...
"(Wasn't) happy I was sitting out. But at the same time I was able to learn quite a bit from the last game and hopefully I can implement some positives in (Game 3)."
Slap shots: Patrick Kane has 126 points in the postseason and needed 3 points in Game 3 to tie Bobby Hull for third place in Hawks history. ... Kirby Dach became just the second player in franchise history (Eddie Olczyk) to record a multi-assist playoff game before his 20th birthday.
Connor McDavid's stats
Season GP G A Pts.
2015-16 45 16 32 48
2016-17 82 30 70* 100*
2017-18 82 41 67 108*
2018-19 78 41 75 116
2019-20 64 34 63 97
Totals 351 162 307 469
* League leader