While Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson carries a reputation for big hits and controversial, perhaps dangerous plays and checks, he found himself on the other side of the play Tuesday. With Wilson turned to the boards in a battle for the puck in the first period of Game 3, Anton Stralman came from behind, throwing him into the boards, and for what is one of the only times in his young career, Wilson fell to the ice, laying there for a moment.
“I’m not one to lay on the ice, but it took me a minute to collect myself,” Wilson said, before adding, “I mean, if I’m wearing a helmet from five years ago, I’m probably unconscious.”
The 24-year-old is no stranger to the NHL Department of Player Safety. He’s been in multiple conversations with them throughout his career, and knows well that the league has no tolerance for hits targeting the head. So, when he had to head off to the dressing room to address the potential injury and the impact to the head, Wilson wanted the league to assess the hit. However, the next day, the league decided they would not take action; Tampa Bay’s blueliner would not receive a suspension or hearing for the hit, though he did receive a boarding minor for the play.
“I don’t really know anymore, but if anyone wants to feel the goose egg on the side of my head…” Wilson said following the game. “He leaves his feet, I’m in a pretty vulnerable spot and he drives my head through the glass… everything I’ve heard all year, he sees numbers for a good amount of time and he elevates through the back of my shoulder and head.”
Wilson Preaches Player Safety Despite Reputation
The Capitals’ tough guy knows that he doesn’t have a good standing around the league, given his gritty play and tremendous physicality. Because of this, he thinks he knows how the situation would have played out in reverse.
“It’s their job to take a look at the hit for sure,” Wilson said. “I can tell you if it’s maybe the other way around, you better believe they’re looking at it and you better believe there might be a little bit more attention on it.”
In a sense, it’s hard to deny that. Stralman doesn’t have a track record of controversial hits, while Wilson referred to himself as a “repeat offender,” especially in light of his recent suspension for a hit to Zach Aston-Reese in Game 4 of the Pittsburgh-Washington series that broke his jaw and concussed him.
However, as someone who has been talked to about the importance of safety and awareness, Wilson believes that adds more fuel to the fire, even more reason that the hit should have been assessed.
“It’s a vulnerable position, and you know, there’s no doubt there’s contact with my head,” Wilson said. “I’m not here to complain about anything. I’m just talking about it for the better of the game and for the better of player safety.”
The reasoning behind the suspension appears to be because, at the last minute, Stralman appeared to try and minimize the damage, instead shifting to make contact with the shoulder.
Heading into Game 4 Thursday, the Capitals lead the series 2-1 and will look to bounce back from their Game 3 loss at home. In the end, Wilson believes the hit somewhat shifted the momentum of the game but knows that in the future, plays like that cannot take an impact and lead to a turning point through a game.
“When someone gets run from behind, the next couple shifts you’re going to be more tentative,” Wilson said. “There’s going to be heavy hits in games. We need to control our emotions and make sure we’re the better team for the majority of the 60.”