The nature of the game may change this time of year as the playoffs approach, but that does not excuse the deplorable nature with which notorious Capitals forward Tom Wilson played the game Monday night and throughout his eight NHL seasons.
Wilson reminded everybody of that Monday night at Madison Square Garden, when he punched Rangers forward Pavel Bnuchnevich in the back of the head while he was face down on the ice and then rag-dolled Artemi Panarin, knocking the Rangers’ star winger out of the rest of the game as the Blueshirts were officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 6-3 loss to the Capitals.
The debacle occurred shortly after the Rangers’ took a 3-2 lead on a Kaapo Kakko goal roughly 4 ¹/₂ minutes into the second period. Wilson, whose roughing penalty at the start of the middle frame led to Mika Zibanejad’s game-tying goal, was on the ice to kill off the Capitals’ bench minor (too many men) when he acted out as he has many times before.
Buchnevich was already cheek-to-ice when Wilson began sandwiching the Rangers forward’s head between his mitt and stick. Ryan Strome pulled Wilson off before Panarin jumped on his back. Wilson then went at Panarin, pulling his hair to drag him down to the ice, punching him in the face and grabbing the back of his jersey to slam him down again.
Wilson received a double-minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct, but he finished out the rest of the game. Panarin didn’t skate in the final 12:20 of the second period and stayed in the locker room for the remainder of the game after the second intermission.
“I figured you should have some more respect for the game and for the players,” Zibanejad said after the loss. “I don’t honestly know where to start. It’s just there’s zero respect. I don’t know why I’m surprised; just horrible.”
Added Rangers head coach David Quinn: “We all saw it. There are lines that can’t be crossed in this game, and it’s just zero respect to the game in general. You have one of the star players in this league now, who could have got seriously, seriously hurt in that incident.
“You saw what happened. And you know, it happens time and time again with him. It’s just totally unnecessary.”
To make the night even more of a spectacle, the Capitals’ official Twitter account created a since-deleted meme that made light of Wilson’s violence on the ice. The social media team made a point to condone Wilson, who has been suspended for 27 games throughout his career — 14 for an illegal check to the head, 11 for boarding and two for interference.
Quinn said Panarin was “fortunately OK,” but the Rangers certainly missed his presence on the ice as the Capitals broke open the game following the incident. Washington scored four unanswered goals, one at the end of the second and three in the third, including an empty-netter from Wilson.
But the Rangers gave the Capitals a challenge until the tiff with the notorious agitator. After Washington got on the board with two goals roughly 1 ¹/₂ minutes apart in the first period, Zibanejad netted his first of the night off a hard wrister with two minutes left in the opening frame.
Even though the Rangers were able to ride the momentum from that first goal and pull even in the second, not even a win could’ve salvaged their postseason aspirations due to the Bruins’ 3-0 win over the Devils.
“It’s just another level of disappointment, really,” Quinn said. “We just didn’t get enough done this year. We had some great moments, some great stretches, but it just wasn’t enough.”
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