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The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals faced off in Madison Square Garden Monday night for a late-season bout of great importance to both teams. The Rangers needed to win in order to keep their slim playoffs hope alive, while a Capitals win would mean that they take first place in the MassMutual Eastern Division. The Capitals won 6-3, but that isn’t the story.
In the second period, with the Rangers having scored three straight goals to take a 3-2 lead, New York sought to increase its advantage by taking advantage of being on the power play. On the ice for Washington was one Tom Wilson. Before I go any further, I note he and I are not related.
Wilson has a well-earned reputation as the dirtiest player in the National Hockey League. How dirty? He has been suspended by the league five times during his career. No player is even close to amassing the number of penalty minutes he has incurred during his tenure. He has sent a player to the hospital with a concussion more than once. He has broken an opponent’s jaw. The list goes on.
Back to the Rangers-Capitals game. As mentioned, New York was on the power play and Wilson was on the ice as part of Washington’s penalty kill. Wilson proceeded to try to take the “kill” part literally when, after a shot on goal by New York, Wilson commenced punching Rangers right winger Pavel Buchnevich in the head while Buchnevich was laying on the ice. In what comes as no surprise, this aroused the ire of Buchnevich’s teammates. In the ensuing melee, Wilson demonstrated a not inconsiderable amount of strength, albeit one also showing total disregard for such niceties as sportsmanship and not trying to literally kill your opponent, by bodyslamming New York left-winger Artemiy Panarin to the ice headfirst. Did I mention Panarin didn’t have his helmet on at the time? Unsurprisingly, Panarin suffered an injury during all this.
Yes, hockey is a physical sport. Ofttimes it is brutally so. That said, showing both a total lack of self-control and a total disregard for not only the health, but the life of another player is a line no sane participant will cross even in the most heated moments. Adding this to all of Wilson’s previous transgressions makes it quite apparent neither respect nor sanity are encoded anywhere in his DNA.
While the direct fallout from this incident has yet to occur, it takes no crystal ball to predict how events will unfold the remainder of this NHL regular season and into the postseason. Going forward, look for every single everything that so much as vaguely approximates a penalty committed by any Capitals player to be called, especially in the playoffs where the standard operating procedure is referees pocketing their whistles for anything short of felonious assault. Which, it can fairly be argued, is what we had in this Rangers-Capitals game.
The Capitals will not win the Eastern Conference. In fact, it will be shocking if they make it out of the first round against either the Boston Bruins or the New York Islanders. The officiating will be utterly one-sided, with little if any effort made to hide this fact. Even if Wilson is suspended for part or all the playoffs, Washington will pay, continue to pay, and then pay some more for embarrassing the league in this thuggish fashion.
In a moment so ironic Alanis Morissette would be impressed, tonight was Pride Night at the Ranger’s game with the overriding theme that hockey is for everyone. Until (or unless) the NHL finally drops the banhammer on Wilson, it is clear that psychopathic goons are also welcome.