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Tom Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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Tom Wilson puts on a show in his hometown to lead Capitals over Toronto

Tom Wilson puts on a show in his hometown to lead Capitals over Toronto

Tom Wilson's two-point night including the shorthanded game-winner as the Capitals held on for a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday. The win was Washington's third on their six-game road trip, which concludes Saturday in Buffalo.

Here are four reasons Washington won.

1. Braden Holtby’s first period

After the first period, it looked like we were going to have a goalie duel. Frederik Andersen looked absolutely brilliant to start and the Caps needed Holtby to be equally brilliant to keep Washington in it. He was.

Holtby made 12 of his 40 saves in the opening frame, including an absolute beauty to rob Patrick Marleau. Andersen robbed Michal Kempny and Nicklas Backstrom on one end of the ice and Toronto picked up the puck off the rebound for a quick 2-on-1 counter. Kasperi Kapanen fed Marleau beautifully, but Holtby stretched out to make the spectacular save with the blocker. A few minutes later, Holtby made a quick pad save on a William Nylander backhand, then recovered just in time to deny Connor Brown on the rebound attempt.

Because of Holtby’s efforts, both teams went to the locker room locked in a 0-0 tie.

2. Alex Ovechkin draws a penalty, scores the power play goal

Morgan Rielly does not take many penalties. Heading into Thursday’s game, Rielly had taken only two minor penalties all season, which is pretty remarkable when you think about a top defenseman averaging 22:43 of ice time per game.

In the second period, however, Ovechkin managed to draw a hold on Rielly. When you get a team’s top defenseman in the box, you need to take advantage. The Caps did just that off a quick play off a faceoff.

T.J. Oshie won the draw back to John Carlson. As soon as the draw was taken, Ovechkin backed away towards the top of the opposite faceoff circle. Toronto was slow to setup the defense, so when Carlson fed Ovechkin for the one-timer, he had an open shooting lane on net. Ovechkin delivered a fadeaway one-timer from above the circle and beat Andersen glove side.

3. A key forecheck by Tom Wilson

Brett Connolly made a nice play in front of the net to deke around the stretched pad of Andersen and backhand the puck into the open goal. Wilson made that play happen, however, with a great forecheck.

Jake Gardiner went to recover the puck behind the goal line in the defensive zone, but Wilson came streaking in like a freight train and knocked Gardiner off the puck. Lars Eller pounced on the loose puck and fed Connolly in front of the net. He did the rest.

4. The Tom Wilson shorthanded exclamation point

Washington carried a 2-0 lead into the third period and looked to be the better team, but a goal form Andreas Johnsson put the Maple Leafs right back in it. The ice was definitely tilting in Toronto’s favor and less than 90 seconds after Johnsson scored, John Carlson took a hooking penalty.

With the game on the line, however, the penalty kill delivered.

Holtby made a kick-out save and two Leafs went after the rebound, but Brooks Orpik made a key stick lift on Mitch Marner and Eller beat Johnsson to the puck and had a lane for the breakout. Wilson turned on the jets and hustled out of the zone to try to catch up with Eller for the 2-on-1. He got there just in time and Eller delivered the pass to him just past the blue line. Wilson took aim and fired a wrister past Andersen to end any hopes for a comeback.

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Capitals fan finishes late wife's dream of watching DC at every NHL arena

Capitals fan finishes late wife's dream of watching DC at every NHL arena

To watch the entire video, click "play" in the video player above.

Capitals fan Greg Christian and his late wife, Dona, made a plan to watch their favorite team at every NHL arena. Greg finally achieved that goal.

Gred attended the Caps' tilt with the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 23, taking with him a picture of Dona sporting a Hockey Fights Cancer jersey.

Greg and his wife were long-time Caps fans, and spent road trips talking about hockey and sports. They were soon inspired to follow the Caps on the road and make it to every possible venue to watch them play.

However, those plans would be interrupted in April 2017, when Dona was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. The two made it to 34 NHL venues together before she passed away in November, last taking in a Caps game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, according to the Washington Post.

The two have now seen Washington play at 36 venues, including two past arenas and three stadiums. And once Seattle gets an NHL franchise, Greg told WUSA9 he plans to be in attendance.

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