Enforcer, goon, agitator, whatever you’d like to call it, Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was at it again on Tuesday night — this time at the expense of the New York Rangers.
During the second period of a 6-3 loss, Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich crashed the net of Capitals goalie Vitek Vanicek with a scoring chance available right at the doorstep. After he fell to the ice stomach-first, Wilson administered a gloved punch to the back of an unsuspecting Buchnevich’s head.
An ensuing scrum saw Ryan Strome pull Wilson off Buchnevich before Rangers superstar forward Artemi Panarin jumped on the Capitals’ troublemaker to try and keep him from punching Strome.
Wilson proceeded to pull Panarin’s helmet off before slamming him to the ice — a dangerous act considering Panarin’s head was exposed.
Wilson was slapped with a double-minor penalty for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct, though he was able to return where he scored his 13th goal of the season.
Meanwhile, Panarin was penalized two minutes for roughing and would not return to the game for what was described as a lower-body injury.
With three games to play, TSN’s Elliotte Friedman reported that “preliminary” expectations are that Panarin won’t play out the schedule with the Rangers eliminated from playoff contention.
It leaves the Rangers to sift through the rubble of yet another disgraceful display from Wilson.
“We all saw it. There are lines that can’t be crossed in this game,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said. “There’s just zero respect for the game in general. You got one of the star players in this league now that could have gotten seriously, seriously hurt in that incident. You all saw what happened, and it happens time and time again with him. Totally unnecessary.”
“I figure you should have more respect for the game and for the players,” Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. “It’s just horrible. Zero respect. I don’t know why I’m surprised. It’s just horrible.”
Despite wreckless and dangerous play that has become commonplace, Wilson is still afforded the opportunity to play in the NHL — a notion that has plenty of fans around North America up in arms.
Wilson has been suspended five times in his career, including a seven-game ban this year for an illegal and dangerous body check to the head of Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo.
When asked how the league should handle this latest calamity, Quinn didn’t have any answers.
“The league’s been dealing with this for a while,” he said. “That’s an answer for somebody else.”
According to the league’s department of player safety, this somehow wasn’t grounds for a sixth suspension. Instead, he was fined $5,000 — just $3,000 more than New York Islanders star center Mathew Barzal’s tab when he was illegally hooked and fell down to the ice in what was labeled as “embellishment.”
An embarrassing verdict, which sets up grounds for an ugly situation to unfold Wednesday night when the Rangers and Capitals play each other yet again.
In the meantime, the Capitals’ social media team further stoked the flames by sending out a since-deleted tweet saying the team “chooses violence” with Wilson living “rent-free” in the minds of hockey fans.
His head coach, Peter Laviolette defended Wilson, too — though that’s what most coaches would do for their players, regardless of how inappropriate the action is.
“I thought it was just a scrum, physical play,” Laviolette said. “There was something going on originally with the goalie and jamming at the goalie. We had a bunch of players jump in there. It happens a lot.”
While the Rangers and their fan base fume over Wilson’s antics, the Capitals might not be done in the New York area this season after Wednesday night.
As it stands, the Capitals could meet the Islanders in the first round of the Eastern Division playoffs. Prior to Tuesday night’s action, the Capitals hold the No. 1 spot in the division while the Islanders are in the fourth and final clinched spot.
These two teams met in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last year with the Islanders taking down Washington in five games.