As the Vegas Golden Knights crammed into the quaint visitors' locker room at Capital One Arena, they insist the feeling wasn’t different than any other game. Yes, they were here for two games in the playoffs. Yes, they lost both of those. No, that’s not weighing on them as they prepare to play the team that topped them for the Stanley Cup four months ago.
“Seriously, it hadn’t even crossed my mind,” Golden Knights Coach Gerard Gallant said. "Last year, they won the Stanley Cup. They were the better team in the final. They deserved it. They played well. This year, for me it’s about trying to get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s what we started out with. . . . So, I’m not worried about, because Washington beat us in the final last year that we’re playing them [in the fourth game] in the regular season. It means no more to me.
"Is it a rivalry? Do we really want to beat them? We want to win because we want two points. It has nothing to do with what happened last year in the playoffs.”
Across the Potomac, at the Washington Capitals' practice facility in Arlington, players expected something different. The Pittsburgh Penguins ended their season in the second round in back-to-back years, so of course that fueled the Capitals whenever the teams played. After Vegas rolled through the Western Conference, Washington beat the Golden Knights in five games, arguably the Capitals' easiest series of the postseason.
“It was a great series for us but not for them," captain Alex Ovechkin said. “I think they a little bit angry.”
Said T.J. Oshie: “Just looking at experience, I think anytime, whether it’s in the first round or the finals, a team knocks you out, you usually have a little bit more fire. You kind of circle the calendar for that next game you play against them.”
But outside of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who said he would rather start against the Capitals on Wednesday than play against his former team in Pittsburgh on Thursday night — “This is the team that beat us in the finals, and yeah, I just want to get back on the ice against them,” he said — other Golden Knights players seemed indifferent about the early-season rematch.
“I think everyone has turned the page and is moving on to this year,” Reilly Smith said. “There’s really no point to holding on to past emotions from last year.”
No date for Wilson appeal
A date hasn’t been set yet for Tom Wilson’s appeal hearing with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, but according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, it’s expected to be next week. Even if Bettman reduces Wilson’s 20-game suspension from the Department of Player Safety, Wilson and the NHL Players' Association could choose to then appeal to a neutral arbitrator. Wilson remains suspended during the appeal process.
He wasn’t on the ice with teammates at morning skate Wednesday, and Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said “he’s going through some things, just dealing with the appeal process today," indicating that it’s related to him getting prepared for the hearing.
“When he gets back, we’ll have some different things for him this weekend that he hasn’t done before,” Reirden said, referring to Wilson’s practice regimen while he’s suspended. “Just to make sure that he’s on top of his game and continuing to get better and stay as sharp as he can.”
Dilly dilly, D.C.
Oshie’s signature Stanley Cup celebration, in which he pulled his jersey over his head and chugged beer through the cloth, is being immortalized in a new Bud Light T-shirt. Participating bars in D.C. will be giving away the shirts before Wednesday night’s game against the Golden Knights.
“I wondered why they wanted to send me a couple cases,” Oshie said. “I thought they were just being nice. But, yeah, pretty cool.”
Oshie is still part of a group chat with some of his old friends and teammates from North Dakota, and he said he first heard of the promotion when someone mentioned it there. “Pretty clever idea. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it,” he said. “It’s retired for a while, I think. Hopefully I can bring it out again next June.”