Lubomir Visnovsky leaves the game after being checked by Tom Wilson in the second period. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)
Last season, searching to make an impact as a rookie with limited ice time, Tom Wilson got himself into a lot of trouble, often making questionable hits and dropping the gloves whenever he got the chance. He finished the season with the seventh highest number of penalty minutes in the NHL. Now in his second season, and sometimes skating top line minutes under new head coach Barry Trotz, Wilson has moderated his game, becoming less of a wrecking ball and more of an agitator. In game four, however, the wrecking ball was back.
With Lubomir Visnovsky attempting to corral a loose puck behind his own net, Wilson came flying in, delivering a massive shoulder to chest blow. While Visnovsky was ravaged by the hit, the check appeared clean. The puck was there, Wilson never left his feet, and he hit Visnovsky square in the chest. Nevertheless, the refs took umbrage with the hit, calling Wilson for a change. The Islanders were outraged.
“He’s an idiot,” Islanders forward Kyle Okposo said of Wilson, according to the New York Post. “That guy runs around, he hits reckless. He jumps, leaves his feet. There’s no place for that.”
Speaking after Okposo, Islanders head coach Jack Capuano also alleged Wilson left his feet, though the replay shows that happens after contact occurs.
When word came down this morning that Wilson will not face any additional discipline from the NHL for the hit, Islanders players didn’t contain their fury.
“The puck wasn’t anywhere close,” captain John Tavares said via Scott Charles of Isles Insight. “Complete target of a defenseless player.”
“We could have easily hit a lot of guys like that too,” Tavares continued. “We stay within the rules and play the game the right way.”
Capuano, however, seemed to augment his view, perhaps after viewing the replay, saying he didn’t “have an opinion on it.”
With the series heating up and tied at two games apiece, the boys from Kettler Capitals Iceplex defended their teammate.
“It was a hard, clean hit,” Trotz said via Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post. “He didn’t leave his feet, he stayed low, puck’s right there, all those things. Tom Wilson didn’t do anything other than run him over. Tom Wilson’s a lot bigger than their player and he hit him clean.”
Brooks Laich was more colorful.
“Willy’s a big, strong guy, boys,” Laich told The Sports Junkies this morning. “Anything that he hits is gonna move. He just runs through people like they’re not even there.
“Once that guy gets moving, look out, because he’s not gonna stop, he’s gonna run right through you,” Laich continued. “He’s just a big, strong kid and I’m glad we have that guy on our team.”
Laich added that he thought the penalty galvanized the Capitals and that they had no plays to change their style of play.
“Those are types of penalties that the killers will go out on a mission to kill,” he said on the show. “You say ‘Absolutely we will kill that off. What it did, was Visnovsky got knocked out of the game. That puts them down to five D in the second period. With the play we play, with a heavy forecheck, grinding forecheck, big forwards that finish their checks — playing with six defensemen is tough enough, but playing with five is even more difficult.”
When asked after Wednesday’s practice about the hit Wilson, naturally, didn’t think he did anything wrong.
“I think everyone in the room felt it was fairly clean,” Wilson said, according to Prewitt. “Whenever I make a body check, I’m trying to make sure I’m doing everything as clean as possible, staying on my feet and finishing hard and low through the guy’s body.”
“It’s tough,” Wilson added. “I hope he’s feeling alright. You never want to see a guy go down like that, but it’s a hard enough sport and it’s a hard-hitting sport, so that’s going to happen.”
“Hopefully he’s feeling better and we’ll leave it at that,” Wilson finished.
All this back-and-forth bodes well for a nasty conclusion to the series. Laich made no effort to dismiss that notion. When asked by the Junkies who he hates on the Islanders, Laich was forceful.
“Anyone who puts their jersey on, man,” he said. “That’s an easy question. … By the end of the series, you just can’t stand each other. It’s just hacking and whacking, battling. It boils down to just a contest of wills. That’s the beauty part of playoffs. That’s why we love the game so much.”
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