Tom Wilson played just 91 seconds against the Florida Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but even in that limited amount of time, he made his mark on the series as best he could.
He drew a penalty and scored a power play goal early in Game 1, but then on just his third shift of the night he left the game (and the series) with what he confirmed Sunday was a knee injury. Previously, the team had described him as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Wilson hurt his left knee.
It’s unclear what the injury is. Wilson did not want to get into specifics, but did describe the injury as “significant.”
“It was kind of a weird, kind of freak thing,” Wilson said at Washington's breakdown day. “I went into the hit and tweaked my knee. Everything you guys heard was honest. I was doing everything I could to try to get back. It was just one of those things where I wasn’t able to. A bit of a bummer but it is what it is. It just kind of sucked that it happened at this time. I was pretty good (health-wise) all season and then kind of a freak thing.”
Wilson attempted to return to Game 1 and came to the bench on two different occasions and attempted to return to the ice. He took a practice skate on the ice during a commercial break, though he never returned to game action.
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Wilson at least knew the moment of Game 1 when the injury occurred. He went in hard to the corner boards and had Florida defenseman MacKenzie Weegar lined up for a hit. But how exactly did he get hurt? He still isn't sure.
“Your guess is as good as mine because the camera angle wasn’t great,” Wilson said. “I tried to avoid the hit a little bit. I was going in pretty fast and I tried to avoid it a little bit and then I put myself and probably jeopardized myself a little bit and probably hyperextended my leg in the boards. I kind of pivoted around a little bit to get on my left leg, but I don’t know exactly what happened. I tried it out and it was no good.”
Surgery remains on the table for Wilson and a timeline for a return remains unknown. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said he does not believe Wilson will miss the start of the regular season in October.
Wilson skated twice post-injury at the team’s practice facility by himself with trainers on the ice, but never returned to team practices after the injury.
“I saw something that said I was flying around or whatever on the ice,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘That’s not flying around. I definitely wasn’t flying around.’ But we have a great training staff, good doctors and it was one of those things where I was trying to be the unique situation or the odd person that can do it. You get a brace and you get out there and there’s a chance. So I was trying everything I could. I just wasn’t able to do it.”
Wilson's absence in the series was a large one as the Capitals were eliminated in six games by the Presidents’ Trophy winners. In the final three games of the series, all Capitals losses, they blew leads and were dealt two overtime defeats on home ice.
“He’s a big piece,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “He’s present on the ice. Make their defensemen to throw the puck away a little quicker. He’s a tough guy and we miss him a lot.”
Added teammate T.J. Oshie: "It's tough. I mean, I said before I don't think there's another player in the league like Tom. A guy that can be your enforcer, one of your top goal scorers, top PK, on the power play, so it was tough for the team to go on. We obviously had our hands full with him in the lineup and it sucked for him too because I know how bad he wanted to be out there. I know what it feels like to watch your team lose in playoffs. I had that when I had my collarbone. So it was pretty tough on him and hoping he can get healthy and be ready to rock for next year."
Not being on the ice affected Wilson not just physically, as he was unable to help as he watched the Capitals drop a series they felt was very winnable against the league’s best regular season team. There was mental component to being hurt, too. Now, a summer of rehab, potentially after a surgery on his left knee, awaits as Wilson ruminates on being unable to help in the postseason when it mattered most.
“In more ways than one, my summer sucks now,” Wilson said. “I’m the kind of guy, to have the uncertainty was tough. I was trying to get back and trying everything I could. Every person you walk by, every fan, every person was like, ‘When are you back? We need you back.’ That was tough. I wanted to be out there. So, you feel like you let people down and that sucks.”