First impressions make a difference. In December of his rookie season, Tom Wilson made himself known to fans of the Philadelphia Flyers with a savage charge on forward Brayden Schenn. Since then, Wilson has been a marked man.
“We don’t want to be liked by them,” Wilson said of the Flyers Tuesday, two days before the Capitals face Philadelphia in Game One the opening round of the playoffs. “Hopefully, we can keep it that way, that they hate our guts.”
Wilson has been hated by many teams’ fans in his short NHL career. He has a penchant for fights, late hits, and undisciplined play. This season, Wilson finished third in the league with 163 penalty minutes. In November, the NHL investigated Wilson after other teams complained about what they deemed his dirty play.
But after Barry Trotz recently benched him after a dangerous five-minor major for boarding, Wilson insists he will go up to the line against the Flyers — and only sort of cross it.
“I’m my best when I’m emotional, when I’m playing the game hard, when the other team’s kind of all over me,” Wilson said. “That’s when I feel I’m playing my best hockey. … That dipsy-doodle stick game just isn’t there in playoffs. Everyone is wearing their heart on their sleeve every shift and playing as hard as they can. Those are the games I like to play, but there is something to be said about keeping it in check.”
Wilson admitted it’ll be tough. “It’s going to be an emotional series,” he said. “Anyone in here who says it won’t be would be lying to you. Everyone can say ‘I’m going to play between the whistles,’ but there’s going to be a ton of hard work, a ton of emotion. I just gotta make sure I’m not crossing the line.”
But no matter who is on the ice for the Capitals, games against the Flyers can get nasty. These teams last met less than two weeks ago. After Sean Couturier ran over Braden Holtby in net, Braden unleashed a chokehold on Couturier. Jason Chimera butt-ended Shayne Gostisbehere after getting slashed. Even sweet Karl Alzner took a roughing penalty. For his part, Wilson has fought the Flyers three times in his career, all in his first season.
“I think I got booed off the ice with a curse word after I hit Brayden Schenn a couple years ago,” Wilson said. “I know a lot of the Philly fans didn’t like me ever since then. My first year we had some brawls and that was an emotional year.”
In the playoffs, however, everyone despises their opponent. Last year, Wilson got under the skin of the New York Islanders over the course of Washington’s vicious seven-game series victory.
“I’m glad I’m not going back to the Coliseum because there were lots of death threats from those fans,” Wilson said. “That’s playoffs and that’s just the way people are. It’s so intense.”
Odd as it seems, the 22-year-old relishes moments like that.
“It’s a huge compliment if you can have the other team’s fans worried about you and chirping you,” Wilson added. “Ask anyone in the room, that’s a pretty cool feeling. Ask Ovi when he’s getting booed in other teams’ rinks. They’re not booing Ovi because he sucks, they’re booing because he’s one of the best players in the game.”
Headline photo: Rob Carr
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