Tom Wilson was Public Enemy No. 1 in the Rangers universe for two days, but by the time the puck dropped for Wednesday’s game against the Capitals, after the Rangers had shockingly fired president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton before the game, he seemed to be an afterthought.
He was not.
In the Rangers’ final home game of the season, a nationally televised rematch at Madison Square Garden that the Capitals won, 4-2, the Rangers let Wilson and his team know exactly what they thought of the forward’s assault on Artemi Panarin in Monday’s game that had ended Panarin’s season.
On the game’s opening faceoff, all three Rangers forwards — Kevin Rooney, Colin Blackwell and Phillip DiGiuseppe — dropped the gloves and fought the three starting forwards for Washington (Nic Dowd, Carl Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway). And, on Wilson’s first shift of the game, Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith went right at him and fought him.
Ryan Strome, who on Tuesday had called the NHL’s decision not to suspend Wilson for his antics "a joke,’’ and who fought with Washington’s Lars Eller in the first period Wednesday, said the Rangers players talked amongst themselves about how they should respond in Wednesday’s game.
"Most of the guys that fought today, they were pretty disappointed [with the decision to not suspend Wilson],’’ he said. "I think the guys that wanted to step up did, and I think there was a bunch of other guys who wanted to answer the bell, too. Big credit to our group . . . it’s never easy dropping the gloves.
"And at the same time credit to the Washington guys. I think they answered the bell, too. None of them really had to do that if they didn't want to…
"I think we did a good job of solving it and moving on.’’
Smith got an instigator penalty in the fight with Wilson, who took a 10-minute misconduct penalty later in the period. After he was sent to the locker room, he did not return. The Capitals said Wilson had an upper-body injury.
Smith, the toughest guy in the Rangers’ lineup Wednesday, was asked if he felt the personal responsibility to fight Wilson.
"I had no beef with anybody else on their team,’’ he said. "I thought that it should have been handled before this game, and it wasn’t so. Unfortunately, it had to be kind of on my shoulders, and I thought I took it.’’
T.J. Oshie, returning to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game due to the death of his father, had a hat trick for Washington, and Nic Dowd had the other. Alexis Lafreniere and Morgan Barron scored for the Rangers. Barron’s goal was his first in the NHL. The teams combined for 141 minutes in penalties in the game, including 100 in the first period, which featured a total of six fights.
Pavel Buchnevich, who Wilson had punched while he was face down on the ice in Monday’s game, leading to the subsequent melee that saw Wilson fined $5,000 by the NHL, was ejected in the second period for a cross-check to the face of Washington forward Anthony Mantha. Ironically, Buchnevich, who received a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct, likely will be suspended by the league.