PHILADELPHIA — The physical play on Broad Street started to ratchet up in the latter half of the second period when one particular hit changed the course of Tuesday night’s contest between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.
With the two teams tied, rookie winger Tom Wilson delivered a shoulder check that sent Brayden Schenn hard into the end boards and shook up the Flyers center. On the five-minute power play that ensued from Wilson’s 20 total penalty minutes for the hit, Philadelphia scored a pair of goals that allowed it to take over the contest en route to a 5-2 win over the Capitals at Wells Fargo Center.
Wilson’s chief role this season, while seeing extremely limited fourth-line minutes, has been one of physicality. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound first-round draft pick makes an impact most nights through heavy hits and fights against opponents often several years his senior.
His check on Schenn with 4 minutes 43 seconds remaining in the second period may have crossed the line, though, and could result in supplemental discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Wilson was not made available to reporters after the game, but Coach Adam Oates said he saw nothing wrong with the 19-year-old’s check.
“I thought it was a clean hit. I really do, I watched it live, saw it on the Jumbotron, watched it again between periods. He had changed. He went across the ice, he slowed down, he saw Schenn come out of the pile with the puck, took two quick strides,” Oates said. “Schenn saw him at the last second and [Wilson] hit him in the arm. He’s a big strong guy, he hit [Schenn] hard. To me it’s a clean hit. I don’t even think it’s a penalty at all.”
But Wilson did receive penalties for the hit — three in all. After he drilled Schenn, who crumpled to the ice three times as he tried to make his way to the Flyers’ bench, Philadelphia defenseman Nicklas Grossman immediately forced Wilson into a fight.
When the dust settled, Wilson received five-minute major penalties for charging and fighting as well as a game misconduct. Grossmann received a fighting major as well, but Wilson’s extra penalty set the stage for Philadelphia.
“We were trying, as much as we could to limit their opportunities but they’ve got a good unit out there and any time you give them five minutes they’re going to be able to get one and tonight they got two,” Troy Brouwer said. “As you can see by the score it was obviously the difference in the game.”
The Flyers entered the game scoreless on their previous seven power plays, but less than two minutes into this man-advantage, defenseman Mark Streit fired a shot from the point through traffic and past Braden Holtby for a 3-2 lead.
Holtby didn’t have an easy night in his first start since he was chased from the net on Dec. 10 against Tampa Bay, with the Flyers bringing bodies in front on every shift. Following that script, Philadelphia upped its advantage to two goals 72 seconds later while still on the extended power play.
Jakub Voracek fired a shot in the slot with Wayne Simmonds standing directly in front of Holtby, who never saw the puck before it was past him for a 4-2 Flyers lead with 1:44 remaining in the second period. Holtby finished with 30 saves and was critical of the Capitals’ inability to fend off the Flyers’ power play.
“That’s what we’re there for, goaltenders, penalty killers. That’s our time to contribute and we didn’t do that tonight,” Holtby said. Philadelphia had a “couple goals because of [traffic in front] but it doesn’t matter what they do, I have to find a way around it somehow and stop the puck.”
Simmonds added a goal of his own when he pulled the puck around top Capitals defenseman John Carlson with 7:29 gone in the third period to make it 5-2 and seal a defeat for the visitors.
Prior to Wilson’s hit and the penalties that came with it, it was a rather tight but tough contest between the two Metropolitan Division rivals. Alex Ovechkin scored his 28th goal of the season to give Washington an initial 1-0 lead on the power play 40 seconds into the middle frame. But before Wilson’s hit, the teams combined for three more goals with the Capitals giving up a pair of one-goal leads.
Voracek scored his first of the night on a two-one-one when he beat Holtby low, blocker side to tie the contest at 1 and then Eric Fehr and Matt Read both recorded goals as well to make it 2-2 with 11:54 gone in the second period.
But all that was little more than a footnote after Wilson’s hit and the penalty that followed altered the game’s trajectory.
Capitals notes: Aaron Volpatti suffered an apparent injury in a fight with Philadelphia’s Adam Hall with 5:37 gone in the second period and didn’t return to the contest. It’s unclear if the injury is facial or if Volpatti may have suffered a concussion. . . . With Mikhail Grabovski out for a second consecutive game with the flu and Michael Latta placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, Washington recalled AHL forward Casey Wellman, who appeared in his first NHL game since Jan. 19, 2012.