The people came to see this next generation of NHL greats, together, on the same ice surface, a display of talent rare in these parts.
There was a different buzz in Air Canada Centre for a weeknight game.
There were dozens wearing Edmonton Oilers jerseys outside the tunnel before the game, lined up extra early to watch 19-year-old captain Connor McDavid breeze past on his way to the ice for warm-ups.
There were hundreds wearing Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys in the lower bowl, many of which were pressed with No. 34 and sold in the 48 hours after his four-goal debut last month.
Then they took their seats and waited for something spectacular. Something that never came.
What instead unfolded was a chess match, a coach-on-coach matchup duel, one that no one had marked on their calendar.
But the right team won, at least for the majority in the building.
And the hero was a high pick of a different sort.
Nazem Kadri led the Leafs to their third win of the season on Tuesday night, scoring his second goal of the game in dramatic fashion only 12 seconds into overtime by manoeuvring McDavid to the net.
Final score: 3-2 for the home team.
It was a fitting finish given how the game had gone.
For all the talk of McDavid versus Matthews – the 2015 first overall pick versus the 2016, head to head for the first time in the NHL – the two were rarely even on the ice at the same time.
When it did happen – as with one shift to open the third period – it was the Leafs on the right side of it, with William Nylander making several nice moves to hem McDavid’s line in the defensive zone and Matthews benefiting with one glorious chance from in close that Oilers goalie Cam Talbot turned aside.
For the most part, however, Leafs coach Mike Babcock wanted Kadri’s checking unit in the neutralizing role, and they did an admirable job there, including Kadri getting the opening goal a minute and a half into the game. Oilers coach Todd McLellan, meanwhile, was throwing McDavid over the boards as often as possible to avoid it, and the phenom piled up a team high 23 shifts (15 minutes 24 seconds) in the first 40 minutes.
What he wasn’t able to do was break through on the scoresheet – a rarity this season, given he came into the game leading the NHL with 12 points in nine outings.
McDavid also struggled in terms of possession, spending a lot more time in his own end than he typically has this season, thanks in part to Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly being able to neutralize him with his speed.
But with Babcock so focused having Kadri and/or Rielly on against McDavid, that opened up room for his Oilers teammates, who dominated the game territorially and flung as many pucks at Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen as possible.
Edmonton had 19 shots in the first period. Then 33 after two. And finally nearly 50 all told.
It wasn’t a bad strategy considering Andersen’s body of work this season.
Eventually, it worked.
Darnell Nurse tied the game at 2-2 midway through the third when a floater from the point eluded Andersen’s glove hand, beating the Leafs goaltender in the same spot he has been victimized many times already early this year.
That setup a brief overtime, wherein Kadri worked his magic with a terrific deke, fending off McDavid with one side of his body while scoring with the other.
In the end, however, the score for the No. 1 picks read 23 minutes, four shots and minus-2 for McDavid and 19.5 minutes, six shots and minus-1 for Matthews.
Otherwise, it was all zeros. No goals. No assists. Nary a true highlight-reel play, either.
The coaches had won.
The fans? Not as much.Report Typo/Error