NEW YORK — On a night when the gloves dropped mere seconds after the puck Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, the Capitals needed an adult to skate through the bad blood that had been coursing between Washington and the New York Rangers since tempers first flared 48 hours earlier.
That adult was T.J. Oshie, still coping with the death of his father just the day before. Oshie, who missed Monday’s contretemps to be with his family, notched a hat trick to lift the Capitals to a 4-2 win in a game that saw an astounding 100 penalty minutes handed out in the first period alone and 141 total.
“It’s such an emotional night for T.J.,” Capitals center Nic Dowd said. “He has been such a good leader for our team, and we are trying to be there for him and take care of him, and he ends up taking care of us.”
Oshie’s performance came in vivid contrast to the vitriol that opened the game. He was playing with his father, Tim “Coach” Oshie, in his heart.
On Tuesday, the son took to Twitter to note his father’s death earlier that morning, posting a picture of father and son on the ice after the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup win. Tim was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2012 and died at 56.
It’s with a heavy heart today that my family mourns the passing of my Dad “Coach Oshie.” Coach lived life to the fullest and was unanimously loved by everyone who met him. Thanks to all the family and friends for their support. Heaven received a legend today. #RIPCoachOsh pic.twitter.com/WSAgNNtTpO— TJ Oshie (@TJOshie77) May 4, 2021
“Coach lived life to the fullest and was unanimously loved by everyone who met him,” Oshie wrote. “Thanks to all the family and friends for their support. Heaven received a legend.”
Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said Oshie insisted on coming back and playing Wednesday.
“He got into town [Tuesday night], and there was no way he wasn’t playing,” Laviolette said.
Oshie’s third goal came with 1:40 left in the game on a long-range empty-netter. After the goal, his 21st on the season, Oshie was surrounded near the Capitals’ bench in a group hug. He then skated to the bench, took a seat and wiped away tears.
“I saw he got emotional there at the end, which was understandable,” said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who shared a long embrace with Oshie at the end of the game. “I felt like he needed a hug. I told him, ‘You are the strongest person I know.’ It’s, first of all, it’s impressive that he actually played today, I think, and how he led the way. … We are a family. We are in this together. His loss is everyone’s loss.”
On any other night, Oshie’s heroics would be the main story line. And while he seized the game with his scoring, it opened with emotionally charged antics from both sides that were widely expected in the wake of Monday’s 6-3 Capitals win that included Washington’s Tom Wilson getting a 10-minute misconduct penalty, four more minutes for roughing and a subsequent $5,000 fine Tuesday for his role in a second-period fight. The Rangers believed Wilson’s actions merited a suspension.
A full-on line brawl one second after the opening faceoff Wednesday kicked off a total of six fights in the first 4:14. The wild contest only escalated from there.
New York’s Pavel Buchnevich was ejected for cross-checking Anthony Mantha in the face in the second period, Wilson was ruled out for the final two periods because of an upper-body injury, and five 10-minute misconducts were assessed — plus one game misconduct for Buchnevich. After the game, Laviolette said Wilson “should be fine” and that Buchnevich’s cross-check was “vicious” but Mantha “seems to be fine.”
The Rangers called the entire Monday sequence a “horrifying act of violence.” The Capitals backed their top-line winger, with center Lars Eller saying Wednesday morning the whole situation was being “blown out of proportion.”
“I don’t think people see things clearly when it comes to Tom with things that he’s involved in,” Eller said. “There’s already a biased opinion of him.”
The emotions eventually reached a low simmer by the end of a scoreless first period. Oshie and the Capitals took control of the game in the second.
Oshie scored the game’s first goal 12 seconds into the period on the power play. He scored his second at 8:26. Dowd made it 3-0 with his 11th goal of the season at 14:48.
New York’s Alexis Lafrienère scored at 1:15 of the third to end Vitek Vanecek’s shutout bid. After Oshie’s empty-netter, Morgan Barron scored his first NHL goal 24 seconds later but the Rangers couldn’t tally another. Vanecek finished with 19 saves.
With the win, the Capitals (34-14-5, 73 points) pulled back into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh (35-16-3, 73) in the East and have a game in hand with three games left in the regular season.
The game started with Dowd, Garnet Hathaway and Carl Hagelin all dropping the gloves just one second in. Wilson joined the fray, fighting Brendan Smith at the 50-second mark, and Michael Raffl and Eller also squared off against Rangers counterparts at 4:14.
“I think we kept our minds open to anything, and they felt like we needed to do something and we were there to, I guess, answer it and get it over with and move on and play hockey,” Dowd said. “I think it was a fine response, and everyone walked away feeling even.”
With six players in the penalty box barely four minutes into the game, Washington had only six skaters on the bench for an extended period of time. The Capitals were shorthanded again Wednesday, dressing only 17 skaters. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Schultz and Daniel Sprong were all out.
Ovechkin did not dress because of a lingering lower-body injury. Schultz was out with a lower-body injury and has missed five of the past eight games. Kuznetsov, who missed Monday’s game along with goaltender Ilya Samsonov because of disciplinary reasons, was placed on the league’s covid-19 list Tuesday.
Sprong was a late scratch because of a non-covid-related illness. Daniel Carr was the team’s 11th forward after he was called up earlier in the day from the taxi squad, and he played his first game since April 8.
There is no timeline for when Kuznetsov will come off the covid list, and there was no update about when Samsonov will — or whether he is going to — return to the active roster.