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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The NHL and its Player Safety Department have blood on their hands – literally.
If you’ve been following the second round playoff series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, you know the situation.
In consecutive games, a Penguins player received a hit and immediately went to the locker room with an injury. In both instances, they did not return to the game.
In Game 2, it was Brian Dumoulin. Last night, it was Zach Aston-Reese.
Both hits were high, both hits were illegal, both hits weren’t penalized, both hits deserved suspensions.
Oh, and both hits were delivered by noted predator Tom Wilson.
While Wilson is a repeat offender in this series, he’s also viewed as such by the league. Just this year, Wilson was suspended for two preseason games and four regular season games for two more awful hits.
With that in mind, it’s even more perplexing as to why Wilson was allowed to take the ice in Game 3 after delivering this hit to Dumoulin:
The Tom Wilson check to the head that sent Dumoulin to the room pic.twitter.com/cbRVMLBURo
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 29, 2018
The NHL opted to not suspend Wilson for that hit because they felt the head contact was “unavoidable.” Essentially, they’re blaming Dumoulin, who was bracing for impact from an oncoming Alex Ovechkin. Watch that replay again.
Wilson’s got plenty of time to alter his route and doesn’t. Instead, he extended his arm and elbow to deliver a blow to Dumoulin’s head.
I’m not sure which is less shocking: The fact that Wilson wasn’t suspended, or the fact he did it again in Game 3. This time, he’ll face a hearing, but it’s too little, too late as far as I’m concerned.
Washington’s Tom Wilson will have a hearing today for an illegal check to the head on Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese.
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 2, 2018
In the second period, Wilson lined up Aston-Reese as he exited the Penguins’ zone. Yet again, Wilson delivers a vicious blow to the head.
In fact, he upped his game on this one as he leaves his skates to deliver the hit.
Another hit to the head by Tom Wilson pic.twitter.com/PAiErjxNPF
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 2, 2018
Two obvious things indicate that he launched into Aston-Reese. The first is that his right skate is completely off the ice at the point of contact. His left skate is mostly off the ice at this point as well.
The other clear indication is that he nearly ended up in his own bench after the hit. In fact, Wilson’s teammates on the bench kept him from toppling over the boards. Furthermore, Aston-Reese isn’t putting Wilson over the boards under any circumstances, much less when he’s bracing for impact.
Here’s another angle:
Final look at the Wilson hit pic.twitter.com/s1YRer8VWY
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 2, 2018
That hit easily could have been a 5-minute major with Wilson also being thrown out of the game.
But, he wasn’t thrown out. He wasn’t even penalized. When that fact was made known to the general public, the fans began voicing their displeasure and rightly so.
As the boos grew louder, Wilson sat on the bench – laughing with Aston-Reese’s blood on the ice a few feet away.
Head coach Mike Sullivan later announced that Aston-Reese had suffered a concussion and a broken jaw, which will require surgery.
I’ll grant you that a concussion could have been sustained on a hard shoulder hit. It’s possible. But, explain to me how one suffers a broken jaw on hit which Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said was, “shoulder to shoulder.”
— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) May 2, 2018
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
And, of course Wilson played a role in the game-winning goal.
Late in the third period and with the Penguins pressuring, Olli Maatta forced a pass in the offensive zone, which led to an odd-man rush the other way. Ovechkin finished the play to give the Caps a 2-1 lead in the series.
However, replays show Wilson getting away with a slew foot on Maatta as the Caps are heading up the ice. Does Maatta catch up to the play if he’s not taken out by Wilson? Who knows, but that’s not the point. The point is, this should have been a penalty. The play should have been blown dead immediately.
I’m not one to place all the blame on the officials. The Penguins need to be better in this series – in many areas. That much is obvious, but it’s hard to overlook the impact Wilson has been allowed to have on this series.
To recap: Two headshots and a slew foot went undetected and unpunished in two games. How is this even possible?
Simply put, it shouldn’t be possible. But, here we are.
Meanwhile, the Penguins are just as frustrated as the fans.
After the game, Sullivan said, “At some point we hope the league might do something.”
Sullivan on ZAR: “We lose a guy to a broken jaw that’s going to require surgery and a concussion because of another high hit to the head. At some point we would hope that the league might do something.” -SK
— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) May 2, 2018
We all hope the league might do something. But, how much is enough? To me, one game doesn’t cut it, especially considering he’s a repeat offender.
I don’t care that it’s the playoffs where a one-game ban unofficially equals a three-game ban in the regular season.
You want to eliminate these hits from the game? The suspensions should be consistent across the board. Regular season vs. playoffs shouldn’t matter. If it’s three games in the regular season, it’s three games in the playoffs. Period.
Here’s hoping the NHL gets this one right, but I won’t be holding my breath.
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