In Saturday's game against the Boston Bruins, Tom Wilson was challenged by Bruins forward Trent Frederic, but Wilson declined. With the Capitals ahead 3-0, it appeared to be a wise decision. On Monday, however, in a one-goal game in the third period, Wilson obliged Frederic and the two dropped the gloves. Wilson then watched from the penalty box as Boston tied the game in what would eventually become Washington's first regulation loss of the season.
Considering how much the fight seemed to spark the Bruins, it was one that Wilson probably should have walked away from.
"[Frederic] did a fantastic job," Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo said. "To go up against that guy’s not an easy task and Freddie’s just fearless in that regard. He really got that whole thing jumpstarted with the comeback and I think he’s a big part of the reason we won tonight.”
"When he can jump in and do that, that fires our bench right up," fellow Bruin Craig Smith said. "He plays with no fear and that’s a big part of his game.”
On Saturday, Wilson absolutely made the right decision. With a 3-0 lead, there was nothing to be gained from dropping the gloves. On Monday after watching the Bruins score twice to cut a three-goal deficit down to one, however, you can certainly understand why the situation was different.
Instead of waking up Washington, however, the fight really seemed to spark the Bruins which was exactly what Frederic intended.
"We were down a goal," Frederic said. "Obviously I would have liked to do it earlier, in the first period. It worked out great. ... The opportunity presented itself. Two guys have to agree on it. It's almost an honor thing, and that's what happened, so it worked out great."
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy felt Frederic was a major factor in turning the game around.
"Freddy had a lot to do with it, the scrap with Wilson kind of got everyone's attention on the bench," Cassidy said. "[Wilson is] arguably the toughest guy in the National Hockey League. ... Freddy stood in there and gave us a bit of a boost. I don't know what it does to their team, but I know it gives us a boost."
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette did not fault Wilson for accepting the fight but still lamented not having him available in those critical moments in the third.
"It gets chippy out there," Laviolette said. "You’re playing a team that you’re competing with inside your division, back-to-back nights and so the guys get under each other’s skin a little bit. That had been going on through the better part of two games. I just think Tom’s an important piece to our team, and I appreciate his toughness and physicality, but we appreciate him on the ice [just] as much."
Momentum is one thing, but the bigger part of this may have been losing Wilson for those five minutes.
Wilson has been arguably Washington's best player so far this season. John Carlson's power-play goal in the second period was the result of a fantastic shift by Wilson that resulted in him drawing a penalty from Jeremy Lauzon. Wilson can't make those plays from the penalty box.
To put it bluntly, a Wilson, Frederic fight is a trade the Bruins will take every time.
Wilson was not made available after the game so we don't know what his thought process was in accepting the fight. Perhaps he felt his team needed a spark after giving up two goals. But the fight backfired as it sparked the Bruins and took one of the Caps' best players off the ice.