Tom Wilson

No More Champs: Hurricanes oust Capitals in 2OT

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Not even the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals were immune in one of the craziest opening rounds ever seen. Brock McGinn tipped a shot by Justin Williams in double overtime in a series-clinching 4-3 victory for the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7.

Early on, it didn’t look like this would be a dramatic contest. Andre Burakovsky stripped the puck away in the Hurricanes’ zone and then beat goalie Petr Mrazek to put Washington on the board just 2:13 minutes into the game. Just four minutes later, Alex Ovechkin outplayed Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton before feeding the puck to Tom Wilson, who made the game 2-0.

Carolina hung in there though. Sebastian Aho scored a shorthanded goal at 9:51 of the second period to cut the lead in half. Evgeny Kuznetsov regained the two-goal lead at 13:22 of the second period, but Teuvo Teravainen answered right back at 16:37.

Early in the third period, Jordan Staal got a clean shot on Braden Holtby that he managed to get by him. It’s one that Holtby arguably should have gotten, but he didn’t have help on that play either and the end result was the game was tied.

From there, Carolina was a dominant force in overtime and it looked more and more like it was just a matter of time before the Hurricanes beat Holtby one more time. It took a while, but it happened.

Just like that, all four wild-card teams have advanced. Washington is out. Pittsburgh, which won the Cup in 2016 and 2017, is out. Vegas, which got to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, is out. Tampa Bay, which tied an NHL record with 62 wins in the regular season, is out.

This year has reinforced the notion that anything can happen in the playoffs. Carolina will face the New York Islanders in Round 2 and while the Hurricanes might be the underdogs, that hasn’t been a bad spot to be in.

MORE: Round 2 schedule, TV info

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Being Tom Wilson: Inside the life of hockey’s most hated man

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Tom Wilson tries not to read everything about him on social media.

You’d think being on the receiving end of endless tweets and messages that are, well, not suitable for work would be reason enough to skip them. But Wilson can’t just ignore it all because sometimes it goes beyond hockey.

”Last year there’s people putting my parents’ address on Twitter and people underneath being like, ‘Oh, good to know,”’ Wilson said. ”I said: ‘Hey, just so you know, this is out there. The mail and stuff, just make sure you’re aware.”’

Such is life for Wilson, one of the most hated players in the NHL – if not the guy at the top of the list. The Washington Capitals winger has been suspended four times over the past 19 months and there were a few other incidents that might have crossed the line. He is the guy opponents and their fans despise and the player no teammate would willingly do without. Inside the Capitals’ locker room, the 25-year-old Wilson is so admired he could succeed Alex Ovechkin as captain.

In an era where enforcers are hard to find, not only does Wilson play on the edge – he lives on it.

”I think a lot of guys maybe have lost some respect for him,” said St. Louis Blues forward Zach Sanford, who broke into the league with Wilson and the Capitals. ”He’s had quite a few cheap hits the past couple years. But that’s just how he plays. He’s on the edge. Sometimes he crosses it.”

Wilson gave Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg a concussion and broke the jaw of Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese in the playoffs. He gave St. Louis’ Oskar Sundqvist a concussion with a hit to the head – in the preseason – that drew a 20-game suspension that was reduced to 14 by an arbitrator. He has avoided trouble since then and set career highs with 22 goals and 40 points in 63 games, becoming one of Washington’s most important pieces as it tries to repeat as Stanley Cup champion.

”He’s shooting the puck better than he has ever done,” said New Jersey Devils defenseman Connor Carrick, a fellow 2012 Capitals draft pick and junior teammate of Wilson’s in the Ontario Hockey League. ”He’s got a good glide for a big guy, and that’s what you’ve seen, I think, with other guys around the league with that frame that haven’t been able to continue.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When the Capitals selected Wilson 16th overall seven years ago, then-general manager George McPhee hoped they’d be getting a power forward like Milan Lucic. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Wilson might turn out to be better than Lucic, especially if he can stay on the right side of the suspension line and play 75-plus games in a season.

”He’s fast, he’s got good skill, he plays a physical game, he puts D-men on edge and other forwards on edge when he’s on the ice,” said Vegas forward Ryan Reaves, who gave Wilson a concussion of his own in December and apologized in the aftermath of the hit. ”I think he is a really good player. I think if he played a little smarter, he’d be even better.”

Wilson has worked at that. He spent time with vice president of player safety and former enforcer George Parros going over video clips and what the league deems acceptable. This season he has been thinking more about each hit he delivers because the next one that crosses the line could cost him more than a couple of months.

The Toronto native said his suspension history – two for illegal checks to the head, one for interference and one for boarding – has forced him to change his approach.

”I have to be aware of it,” Wilson said. ”Hockey’s an extremely fast game, and it’s a hard-hitting game. It’s probably faster than it ever has been, so those plays happen quickly and I’ve just got to do the best I can to control the situation and control the outcome, and that’s just something that I’ve kind of tried to focus on.”

Wilson is one of the very few players to have a disciplinary hearing and not get punished, for an incident with Brayden Schenn in 2013 that was so polarizing the NHL put out a video to explain why it didn’t suspend him.

This season, referees gave Wilson a match penalty and ejected him for a hit on New Jersey’s Brett Seney in November, but the league reviewed it, rescinded it and he played on.

”I don’t know if his timing is wrong or what’s happening, but I wouldn’t say he’s dirty all the time. But obviously he got those incidents where he’s come wrong into situations and that is something he needs to work on,” Sundqvist said. ”He’s one of the most important players for Washington and unfortunately he’s been doing some bad stuff and I hope he comes to his senses and stops doing that.”

Pittsburgh’s Jack Johnson said Wilson has a history of being ”reckless and dangerous” and that players have to be aware of where Wilson is on the ice because ”he’s big and runs around.”

For all the outside talk about taming Wilson, the Capitals don’t really want that.

”He has to remember what he is at times,” alternate captain Brooks Orpik said. ”Without that physical side, he’s not going to get the space and the chances that he gets offensively. The reason he gets as many chances and opportunities is because of his physical play and his intimidation. If that leaves his game, then his opportunities are going to be suppressed.”

Teammate Nicklas Backstrom said one of Wilson’s strengths is that he can do it all from 5-on-5 to power play to penalty kill. Washington signed Wilson to a $31 million, six-year contract last summer for all those elements, which he showcased with 15 points in 21 playoff games during the Stanley Cup run.

Wilson turned Carl Hagelin from an enemy into a friend after five hard-fought playoff series against him. Hagelin watched Penguins’ teammate Aston-Reese go down on a hit to the head from Wilson in the second round last spring, but after a trade to the Capitals, he has come to appreciate the human underneath the No. 43 jersey.

”When you play against certain guys, especially in the playoffs, you obviously don’t like him. You dislike him a lot,” Hagelin said. ”And then you come to a new team and you get to know him as a person and all of a sudden he’s a great guy. … It’s one of those things, just like any other person, you have to prove yourself to me as a person.”

Wilson said he wants to be the kind of guy who’s hard to play against but also move on without any hard feelings. Yet he is aware of his reputation.

”The hockey world’s very small,” he said. ”I always wanted to be someone that’s hard to play against but you can go out and have a beer with the guy and have fun in the summer or whatever. I think that’s what hockey is kind of about.”

Wilson, of course, is not just the muscle on a star-laden team featuring Ovechkin, Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov but is also a young leader the organization is building around.

”There are those moments that you don’t like to see when that stuff’s going down, but the rest of it and all the Caps fans and all that make up for the good side of things,” Wilson said. ”You see kind of those scary things happen in the world, but it’s a pretty darn good life and I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

AP Sports Writers Will Graves and Pat Graham and freelance reporter W.G. Ramirez contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Reaves: Autographed photos of Wilson injury destroyed

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However you feel about Ryan Reaveshit on Tom Wilson, the fallout hasn’t been pretty.

Reaves was ejected from the Vegas Golden Knights’ 5-3 win against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, and that ended up being the extent of discipline, as he was not suspended. Wilson needed to be helped off of the ice following that check; it was an ugly sight, as Wilson’s helmet came off during the fall, leaving him without protection when his head hit the ice.

In the locker room after the win, Reaves addressed the hit as such: “[H]e was looking at his pass and ran into a lion in the jungle.”

It’s bad enough to say that in the locker room after the game, when emotions can still be high, and before it was essentially confirmed that Wilson suffered a concussion.

The ill-advised decisions didn’t stop there, however, as Russian Machine Never Breaks’ Ian Oland reported that Reaves autographed photos of the aftermath of the hit for a company named “Inscriptagraphs.”

The Washington Post’s Scott Allen tracked down some screengrabs of Inscriptagraphs’ Instagram page (say that five times fast), noting that the company described the autographed photo as “the must-have Christmas gift of the year.” Yikes.

Inscriptagraphs

If nothing else, Reaves & Co. realized that it was not wise to go down that road.

As the first sign that cooler heads prevailed, the Inscriptagraphs website took down the listing. Reaves told Jesse Granger of The Athletic that he did indeed sign those photos, but eventually had a change of heart, prompting them to be destroyed. It was noted that the photos were destroyed:

The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Ed Graney had a bit more, including Reaves hinting that it’s not unusual to sign bad things?

“I’ve signed a lot worse, but in this age of social media and concussions, and the fact (Wilson) was hurt, you never want to see that,” Reaves said. “I called the guy (at Inscriptagraphs) right away, and we took care of it before it got out.”

Vegas Golden Knights PR rep Eric Tosi also told ESPN and the Washington Post that they “were not distributed and they have been destroyed.”

One would think that this will be the end of this sordid saga, beyond Wilson’s recovery process stemming from that concussion, as the two teams won’t meet again during the 2018-19 regular season. With Reaves avoiding supplemental discipline, it’s tough to imagine more coming from this.

Keeping this ugly story in the headlines does bring to mind the NHL’s wider confusion with supplemental discipline, though.

With Matt Dumba avoiding a suspension for a highly questionable hit in Thursday’s Flames – Wild game, it’s sometimes difficult to work out through the league’s muddled messages about what “the line” really is. It’s something Capitals players discussed following that Reaves hit on Wilson Tuesday, as Granger reported (sub required).

“Who knows anymore? I don’t feel like anyone knows what’s going on anymore,” Brett Connolly said. “I don’t know if it was to the head or the top of the shoulder, but it’s still one of those hits they’re trying to get out of the game. They have a tough job, those refs. It’s a quick game. They have a tough job and they’re trying to call it the way they’re being told from people a lot higher than me and you. So we’re just trying to as players figure it out too. It’s tough.”

Connolly hits on a point about hits by Reaves, Dumba, and Wilson too: there are a lot of frame-by-frame breakdowns of checks that blur the line. Was the head the primary point of contact? Did the offending hitter’s skates leave the ice? How late was it?

But are we losing sight of the big picture by diving into the hyper-specific details?

Capitals coach Todd Reirden believed that Reaves was targeting Wilson all game long, and the situation devolved into that hit. As we learn more about the impact concussions have on the lives of athletes (and everyday people), you wonder if the league might need to take less of a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to these “feuds.”

Sure, there’s a “nature of the beast” element to all of this, as hockey’s a violent, physical game. Yet, plenty of these hits can feel predatory in nature. Was an offending hit really a hockey play? Perhaps the Department of Player Safety needs to consider setting new precedents about how they police interference, as just one example of contexts when dangerous hits can happen. The league should at least consider common sense ways to try to cut down on these cloudy, borderline situations.

It’s unclear how long Wilson will be sidelined with this concussion. The winger (who scored 14 points in 11 games in a red-hot run returning from his lengthy suspension) missed Thursday’s Capitals win against the Coyotes, and the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan believes that Wilson will miss Saturday’s action, too.

He’s currently labeled day-to-day, a descriptor that’s even hazier than the league’s stance on borderline hits.

Hopefully NHL players will be more clear-eyed when it comes to how they conduct themselves following controversial hits in the future, though.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights’ Reaves ejected after blindside hit on Capitals’ Wilson

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(UPDATE: Reaves will not receive any supplemental discipline from the NHL.)

Yes, you read that right.

Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves did his best Tom Wilson impression in front of the man himself against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. And the result was much the same.

Reaves drilled Wilson as Wilson was looking the other way following a pass attempt. The hit from Reaves sent Wilson’s helmet flying in the air. Wilson hit the ice hard and appeared to hit his head on the way down.

NBC Sports Washington has the video here:

Reaves was assessed a five-minute major for interference and handed a game misconduct on top of it. He’s also likely going to be hearing from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety over the next couple of days.

Wilson needed to be helped off and was ruled out for the rest of the game with an upper-body injury.

Wilson was involved in a controversial hit last week after he laid a blindside hit of his own on New Jersey Devils forward Brett Seney. Wilson was ejected from the game but was not subject to further discipline.

Wilson has been suspended four times in the past 15 months.

Reaves and Wilson already had a thing going in the game.

In the clip below, Reaves steps into the path of an oncoming Wilson and then proceeds to laugh in his face, this after drilling Wilson seconds earlier.

Wilson took Reaves down in the first period with a big hit of his own.

Still a lot of hate between these two teams and it’s safe to say that Reaves and Wilson haven’t seen the last of each other.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

No hearing for Tom Wilson after another controversial hit (Update)

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(UPDATE: There will be no hearing for Wilson, per Bob McKenzie.)

The debate over the next day or so is going to be intense.

Did Washington Capitals forward (and resident bad boy) Tom Wilson deliver another dirty hit on a fellow NHLer? And if so, how does the NHL’s Department of Player Safety navigate that minefield?

Wilson was tossed from Friday’s game against the New Jersey Devils after clipping forward Brett Seney, who had just been stopped on a break and had retrieved the rebound,  dumping the puck back deep into the Capitals’ zone. With Seney’s back turned, Wilson delivered the glancing blow.

To where? That’s what will need to be looked at over the next 24 hours.

Here’s the hit:

Officially, Wilson was given a five-minute major for an illegal check to the head and a game misconduct. There are several angles of the hit that can be seen. Some look like he caught shoulder, others look like the head was the principle point of contact.

If it’s the latter, buckle in.

Wilson was already suspended this season for 20 games (later reduced to 14 through an arbitrator) for drilling St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist with a blindside hit to the head.

PHT’s Adam Gretz put together a quick rundown of Wilson’s recent history prior to his 20 game suspension earlier this season — four suspensions in 105 games.

  • His first suspension came last year in the preseason when he was suspended two preseason games for interference on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas. While Wilson had carried a reputation for being a physical player that played right on the edge, he had, to that point in his career, only been fined by the NHL so he only missed two preseason games. A very minor and meaningless slap on the wrist.
  • But in his first game back from that two-game suspension, he boarded St. Louis’ Samuel Blias, which resulted in the punishment instantly being cranked up to a four-game regular season ban.
  • After going through the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs without another play that reached the level of supplemental discipline, he was given a three-game postseason ban (probably comparable to a six-game regular season suspension) for a hit to the head of Zach Aston-Reese, knocking him out of the playoffs.

A couple things of note on the latest hit: the hit was avoidable, which the DoPS pointed out in the video explanation for Wilson’s 20-game suspension, also stating that he took a poor angle of approach, which seems to be the case again. It’s a blindside hit.

You don’t need the reminder, but Wilson is a repeat offender.

“The hitting aspect of the game is definitely changing a little bit, and I’ve got to be smart out there and I’ve got to play within the rules,” Wilson told the Washington Post during his latest suspension. “And at the end of the day, no one wants to be in the situation that I’m in right now. I’ve got to change something because obviously it’s not good to be out and not helping your team.”

Smart has been one of Wilson’s buzz words for a long time.

Everything had been going swimmingly for Wilson since returning from his latest suspension. His sixth goal during a five-game goal-scoring streak came prior to his ejection.

Wilson has seven goals and 13 points in nine games and appeared to be keeping his nose clean.

For what it’s worth, Seney was able to return to the game.

Following the game, Seney told reporters that he wasn’t totally sure where the hit caught him.

Capitals coach Todd Reirden weighed in after the game.

Reirden was incensed on the bench when Wilson got the boot and appears he was still fuming after the game.

Washington plays their next game on Sunday afternoon, so George Parros isn’t taking Saturday off.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck