Parked inside one of the private boxes at press level above Verizon Center, watching his teammates slog through Game 1 against the New York Islanders, forward Tom Wilson heard several fans shouting in his direction, wishing he was skating with the other Washington Capitals. It was tough sitting for the 4-1 defeat, Wilson said later, though it was necessary. While he hasn’t experienced any setbacks or recurring symptoms from a head injury suffered 11 days ago in Detroit, Coach Barry Trotz considered the right winger “very close” to returning.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Wilson said Thursday afternoon after participating in the team’s optional skate. “I’m pushing it pretty hard and skating hard. Take it day by day, wake up tomorrow morning, skate again and take it from there. At this point, I’m feeling pretty good. Full practicing, skating afterwards, pushing it to your full exhaustion, stuff like that. I feel pretty good.”
Wilson said he visited a concussion specialist Wednesday, hours before the Eastern Conference quarterfinals began, and continued the neurocognitive testing required after such injuries. Each player has baseline scores recorded before the season, through computer games such as word recall, reaction time and attention span, so if suspected concussions occur, they can compare their brain function against the healthy marks.
“It’s all he does these days, it’s such an important issue, so meet with him, make sure everything’s good and get a passing grade on all the games and concussion stuff you do online,” Wilson said. “Once you feel good, pass that stuff, or if you don’t pass, then you keep working on it until you feel ready to go. Everything’s been encouraging, it’s been uphill, hopefully I’ll be ready to go soon.”
Wilson meant that in a positive way, and since the Capitals’ forecheck barely mustered steam against the speedy Islanders, having the physical, beefy 21-year-old for Game 2 could prove advantageous. Speaking several days ago, Wilson intimidated that returning to game shape was a bigger hurdle than anything cognitive related to his injury.
“It was really tough. Game 1, building’s rocking, everyone’s ready to go, it’s playoff time, best time of the year, it’s the kind of games you want to play in,” he said. “It’s always tough when you’re watching, especially when you’re sidelined with an injury. You just want to be helping the boys and going to battle.”
Which, in effect, made watching the debacle – marked by inadequate forechecking pressure, clumsy puck-handling and broken breakouts – that much harder, knowing he still hadn’t been cleared to join them.
Having reminders shouted from below might not have helped either.
“Emotions are high,” Wilson said. “Everyone in the building, it’s the best time of year. It’s the best time of year for you guys, the best time of year for us, coaching, fans. It’s exciting and hopefully we can bounce back.
“They were just yelling at me to get down there. It’s passionate fans and you love to see that. That’s why the game’s so great. We’ve got some of the best fans here in D.C. It wasn’t really the way we wanted to start the series but we’ll bounce back.”
Asked if he could play in Game 2, Wilson gave the stock response he’s offered for several days: “Still give you the same story,” he said, “day by day.”