Photo: Doug Pensinger
Hockey is a game of inches and bad bounces. Sometimes it’s the littlest and strangest things that lead to goals. In the third period on Thursday, Tom Wilson indirectly helped make Alex Ovechkin‘s highlight-reel game-winning goal happen, and dude wasn’t even on the ice.
With 6:18 left in the game, Wilson delivered what I can only call a jockstrap-jostling hit (I just made that up) to Dennis Everberg in the offensive zone. A few seconds later, the game clock was stopped when the puck was played with a high stick.
Despite the whistle, The Big Stamos wasn’t done playing. Wilson saw Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon getting lippy with Ovechkin, so Wilson had a private discussion with the first-round pick.
Chaos ensued, which led to Wilson and Erik Johnson being taken off the ice for matching minors: roughing and slashing, respectively.
Both teams went down a man, opening up space for the the Capitals’ speed and skill.
And Wilson had taken arguably Colorado’s best defenseman along with him to the penalty box. While the Avs might not have a true shutdown pairing (Stuart and Holden take tough shifts too), Johnson is the closest they have to the role.
He skated the most among all Avalanche D-men, 23:48, and defended Alex Ovechkin more than any other back-liner, 14:29. At even strength, Johnson shut down the Caps’ first line, tilting the ice in the Avs’ favor during the seven and a half minutes he faced Ovechkin. Colorado had 5 shot attempts in that time; the Caps had just 2.
Taking Johnson off the ice allowed Ovechkin to go one-on-one against 36-year-old defenseman Jan Hejda. Ovechkin scored one of the most beautiful goals of the season.
Here was Wilson’s view of it.
Taking Johnson off the ice was a marked improvement over last week, when Wilson fought Ryan Reaves late in the second period of the Blues game. That was dumb. The Caps were down 2-1, and Wilson was playing on the top line. Instead of creating offense, Wilson took himself out of the game for five minutes along with a fourth-line goon who wasn’t a scoring threat. Not a good trade-off.
As Wilson continues his trial period in the top six, exercising judgement in using his brawn will become more important. Last night we saw it at its best.
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