For the better part of 30 minutes, the Edmonton Oilers were a complete fraud Tuesday in KeyBank Center. Then you got a glimpse of what the fuss has been about.
All the pregame talk was about the motivation the Oilers had against the Sabres. About how they had not forgotten the clock-cleaning Buffalo put on them in October. And about the inherent advantage of the schedule, which had the Sabres going overtime Monday in Washington and then traveling home while the Oilers were more than comfy here after a leisurely afternoon flight to Buffalo.
"We were just flat," Connor McDavid said before the game in reference to Buffalo's 6-2 win nearly two months ago at Rogers Place. "It was a game we obviously didn't have it and they were well-rested and ready to go. Kind of a different story here. they played last night, traveled and everything like that while we were here in bed early and ready to go."
But the Oil sprung a leak early in this one and at the end.
It was a 2-0 Sabres lead through 20 minutes without a lot from the Edmonton side. When McDavid went to the penalty box for a foolish intereference penalty less than two minutes into the second period, the Sabres had a chance to grab a stranglehold on the game with the Oilers captain in the box.
It didn't happen. Edmonton killed the penalty with ease and McDavid, who had a couple strong rushes in the first period, went to work.
He started to find some open ice. Jorden Eberle scored on a power play at 10:31 and then McDavid found Milan Lucic for the tying goal just 1:45 later. Lead gone. On a third-period power play, McDavid found Leon Draisaitl in front for a perfect tip to put the Oilers up, 3-2.
But then they gave up Evander Kane's game-tying goal in the final 30 seconds. And Rasmus Ristolainen's bullet in overtime. A stunning 4-3 loss.
The rough finish aside, McDavid is a Lamborghini. He can go from 0 to 60 in about three seconds. It's scary for opposing defenses. Jake McCabe did all he could most of the night on McDavid, nearly crushing him at center ice late in the second period before McDavid made a last-minute leap to sidestep him.
But it's pretty obvious why McDavid is the league's leading scorer in just his second season and why he's almost certain to be the Pacific Division captain in the All-Star Game. The speed is breathtaking.
Early in the third period while killing a penalty, McDavid saw an opening and burst through the neutral zone to take the breakaway pass from former Sabre Zack Kassian. McDavid blew away Ristolainen, no skating slouch, but couldn't beat Anders Nilsson through the five-hole.
McDavid entered the game with 27 goals and 82 points in 72 career games and had never gone three straight without a point. The assist on the Lucic goal took care of that.
The "rivalry" between McDavid and Jack Eichel is a forced one, a spinoff from the 2015 draft that's continued to be pushed by national media when it's clear neither player is all that interested in it. And frankly, why would they be? Opposite conferences, no chance to meet in the playoffs except in a Stanley Cup final. McDavid deals with rivalry talk almost every night now, whether he's meeting Sidney Crosby or the Sedins or Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine.
"It always ends up being Connor and somebody," said coach Todd McLellan. "Jack is a tremendous young player and they'll always be tied to the same draft. But the way we view it is Edmonton and Buffalo and Buffalo taught Edmonton a pretty good lesson a number of weeks ago. That lesson probably set us up to have a little bit of success moving forward.
"Every rink we go to, it's Connor vs. somebody and I certainly understand that. We sometimes struggle with that as a team. We've got to make sure it's an Edmotnon vs. Buffalo situation."
McDavid praised Eichel for the way he's rebounded from his high ankle sprain and said he enjoyed their time together in September with Team North America, likely the only time they'll ever be teammates.
"He's definitely a guy you'd rather have on your team than being against him. He's a great player," McDavid said. "I definitely had a good time playing with him at the World Cup. This was all bigger last year. It was a bit of a sideshow at times but now we can just focus on playing."
The Oilers look pretty good to snap the league's longest playoff drought, which dates to their unlikely trip to the 2006 Cup final. Remember, they could have been playing the Sabres were it not for Buffalo's rash of injuries on defense that struck in Carolina that spring
(Sound familiar to what's happening with the Sabres now?)
The Oilers have finally amassed enough young talent to get over the hump and mixed in a key veteran or two. Lucic may be a guy who Sabres fans love to hate but it's easy to forget he's a Stanley Cup winner from the 2011 Boston Bruins and came within two wins of another in Boston two years later.
He's the kind of player Edmonton has been lacking in recent years, a veteran to help all the youth who isn't a spare part on the downside of his career.
"He's done a lot for our dressing room," McDavid said. "He's a guy that's won before. I've always said you don't know what it takes until you've won before and he has. He knows what that room was like, what he can bring to this room and what he can change. He's done a great job of being a big voice in this room. On the ice, everyone knows what he's done."
Still, this was a game Edmonton should not have lost.