As he sat in the penalty box for what probably seemed closer to two hours than two minutes, Capitals 21-year-old right wing Tom Wilson contemplated the boarding penalty he had just taken early in the third period against New York Rangers left wing James Sheppard and prayed the Caps’ penalty killers would do their jobs.
“To be honest, that penalty could have cost us the game,” Wilson said on Tuesday, after a tense 1-0 win over the Rangers Monday night gave the Caps a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“We’re up 1-0 and if they score on that power play, whether it’s a bad hit or not, I can’t put our team in that situation."
The Caps killed the penalty -- they are now 21 for 22 in the post-season -- and hung on for the win thanks to a 30-save effort from goaltender Braden Holtby.
“In the playoffs it’s a really fine line," Wilson said. "You want to play hard and leave your mark on those guys, but you can’t put your team down because one power pay could potentially lose us the game or the series.”
Indeed, that’s how close these two teams are as they battle for the right to play in the Eastern Conference finals.
Each of the Rangers’ five wins and each of their three losses in these playoffs has been decided by one goal. Five of the Capitals’s six wins and two of their four losses have also been by one goal.
“There isn’t any small moments in the game of hockey,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Every moment counts. You never know what the difference is going to be.
“It’s gonna be a last faceoff. It’s gonna be just throwing the puck to the net from a certain angle. It’s getting a puck behind a defenseman versus trying to dangle him at an inappropriate time. It’s managing a game based on the time of the game. It’s discipline when you need discipline. Every moment counts.”
On Monday night, it was getting a Jay Beagle wraparound attempt to go off the back of Henrik Lundqvist’s skate and into the net.
“My goals are never how I draw them up,” Beagle said of his first goal of these playoffs. “It’s always just grinding it out and trying to create havoc in front and good things usually happen. Last series I got robbed a couple times, so it was nice to be rewarded.”
The Caps bubble wrapped that 1-0 lead and carried into the third period, which opened with defenseman Brooks Orpik getting slammed into the boards by a hard but legal body check from Rangers left wing Rick Nash, who has taken his share of body blows from Orpik in the first three games.
No penalty was called on the play, but when Wilson rammed Sheppard into the boards seconds later, he was sent to the box for what could have been a game-changing boarding penalty. It was the third straight game Wilson spent time in the sin bin. He was also called for roughing, along with Tanner Glass, in Game 1 and charging in Game 2.
On Tuesday Trotz was asked if he thinks Wilson is being targeted by the officials.
“No,” Trotz said. “I talked to Tom about that situation. There’s no need for him to make that hit. That was a situation for support, not for contact. He’s a young player. It was a penalty, in my opinion. He’s got to learn from it. That was a teaching moment for him.”
Wilson disagreed with the penalty and said it was not in retaliation for Nash’s hit on Orpik.
“I think the ref probably thought so,” he said. “I let up on my hit. I kind of rubbed him out. I don’t think it was a bad hit, but I probably shouldn’t even be going over there to make that hit.
“[Defenseman Tim] Gleason is right there. It’s not a bad body check by any means, but Brooksie got hit pretty hard. I don’t think the ref really saw it. If Brooksie doesn’t have a visor on he might have a cut on his face.
“It wasn’t a retaliatory thing at all. It was just trying to play hard and get hits. I tried to let up and the ref thought I went and hit him in retaliation to Brooks. I have to do a better job of making sure it’s not in the numbers and clean.”
He’ll get that chance in Game 4 Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
Fehr practices: Sidelined since Game 3 of the first round with an upper body injury, Caps center Eric Fehr took part in an optional practice on Tuesday but will not play in Game 4, Trotz said.
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