Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers


By — Joey Hudson

The tension among the NHL fan base and franchise was met at an all time high after an incident involving a Washington Capitals player injuring and taking out a Rangers player for the rest of this season. The injury sparked a domino effect of events that were to follow in its wake that many have debated and argued about over the past week and was eventually met on May 5th’s game between the Capitals and Rangers. So, what happened? Here’s a recap and timeline of all that transpired over this crazy week in the NHL.

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers faced off Monday night on May 3rd at Madison Square Garden, the arena for the New York Rangers. The game started off as a normal hockey game would with goals and relatively clean hits. The Washington Capitals were holding on to a 1 point lead coming out of the first period, with the score being 2-1. However, during the second period, the game quickly took a turn for the worse.

During the second period, New York Rangers forward Pavel Bunchnevich had a chance to score a goal for the Rangers, however Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek was able to save the puck from entering the net. Due to so many people being in the crease and around the goal to either save the puck or score a goal, things started to get heated between the two teams players and multiple fights broke out with the players on the ice. 

Bunchnevich, who was now laying on the ice after falling, was now being punched in the head by Tom Wilson, a forward for the Washington Capitals. In order to protect his teammate, New York Rangers star and left winger Artemi Panarin jumped on the back of Wilson, causing a fight between the two. 

During the fight, Panarin’s helmet came off, leaving him more vulnerable to hits compared to Wilson, who still had his helmet on. Wilson grabbed Panarin by his hair and threw Panarin to the ground and continued to punch and grab Panarin’s jersey. After seeing this, the referees quickly tried to separate the two, but Wilson continued to hold onto Panarin. The two were eventually separated, but not before Panarin tried to get in a few more jab attempts onto Wilson. 

Wilson was given a 10 minute misconduct following the fight as well as 4 minutes for roughing. Panarin didn’t return for the rest of the game and would later be revealed that he would have to sit out for the remainder of the season due to a lower body injury. During his stay in the penalty box, Wilson mocked and taunted the Rangers bench.

The Washington Capitals would later on win this game between the New York Rangers with a 6-3 victory, one of the goal scorers being Tom Wilson, who was able to ensure the Capitals their final goal of the night with an empty net goal. This also meant that the Rangers were now not eligible to enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs and were eliminated, however that wasn’t the main topic of discussion among NHL fans from all 31 teams.

The Capitals social media manager tweeted a meme following the fight between Wilson and Panarin that led to a lot of controversy. The meme showed a full body picture of Wilson with different parts of him being labeled, the head being labeled with the “sheesh” catchphrase, his body being labeled, “RENT FREE”, a remark used against Wilson’s haters who were complaining about him, and his skates being labeled in a tiny font, “the best goal scorer in the league.” The caption of the meme was, “atCapitals chooses: Violence.” Many viewed the tweet as insensitive and classless and the tweet was quickly deleted. 

Fans were outraged over Wilson’s actions during the scrum with Bunchnevich and Panarin as well as the Capitals franchise for allowing and contributing to Wilson’s behavior. Fans didn’t like how Wilson was hitting Bunchnevich when he was facedown on the ice that could have possibly injured the Rangers player. 

Fans also argued over the way Wilson threw Panarin down to the ice, saying that since Panarin wasn’t wearing his helmet, Panarin could have been either critically injured or even killed due to the length and force of the fall had his head made contact with the ice. Many called for Wilson to be suspended for multiple games, including many of the playoff games. 

Others demanded Wilson to be suspended for the remainder of the season, and other outraged fans called for Wilson to be banned from the NHL. Multiple Capitals and Wilson fans defended Wilson, saying that Panarin shouldn’t have jumped on Wilson’s back and that Wilson was only defending himself. The two differing opinions caused a lot of debate on all media platforms, mainly Twitter and Reddit.

After the game, the Rangers coach, David Quinn, would comment on Wilson and Panarin, saying, “We all saw it. There are lines that can’t be crossed in this game. There’s just zero respect for the game in general. You got one of the star players in this league now that could have gotten seriously, seriously hurt in that incident. You saw all what happened, and it happens time and time again with him (Wilson). Totally unnecessary.”

With many fans calling for Wilson to be suspended as well as the seriousness and danger Panarin faced during that fight, many believed that the NHL and the NHL Department of Player Safety would follow through with it. However, to the shock of fans across the NHL, Wilson only faced a $5,000 fine and was not suspended at all. In fact, Wilson was fined for his actions towards Bunchnevich rather than Panarin.

Again, massive amounts of criticism from fans followed after the news of the fine. Fans believed that the incident was serious enough to warrant a minimum of a few game suspensions. Many fans called for the head of the department, George Parros, to be fired due to the decision of only fining Wilson.

 Even the New York Rangers made a public statement calling for action. The Rangers statements start off with directly calling out Tom Wilson, saying, ““The New York Rangers are extremely disappointed that Capitals forward Tom Wilson was not suspended for his horrifying act of violence last night at Madison Square Garden. Wilson is a repeat offender with a long history of these types of acts…” They continue on with their statement and go towards talking about the credibility of the NHL Department of Player Safety and George Parros, continuing with, “…and we find it shocking that the NHL and their Department of Player Safety failed to take the appropriate actions and suspend him (Wilson) indefinitely. We view this as a dereliction of duty by NHL head of Player Safety, George Parros, and believe he is unfit to continue in his current role.” 

On May 4th, Sidney Crosby, the Captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was also caught in a similar situation and was compared to Wilson’s actions on May 3rd. Crosby can be seen shoving Philadelphia Flyers’ forward Travis Konecny’s face down to the ice. This is due to Konecny previously holding Crosby in a headlock. Neither of them were punished for their actions.

Just before the game between the Capitals and Rangers on May 5th, the Rangers announced that the president of the Rangers, John Davidson, and the general manager, Jeff Gorton, were fired by Jim Dolan, the CEO of the Rangers organization. While Dolan has been planning on releasing the two from their positions for a while now, the ultimate drive to fire the two could have been the result of the release of the Rangers’ statement to the NHL Department of Player Safety. Both Davidson and Gorton believed that the statement wasn’t a good idea and neither of them wanted to be associated with it. It’s not confirmed whether their firings were due to this, but many believe it was the deciding factor in their departure. 

With all this anger, frustration, and animosity building between fans and NHL franchises towards the NHL, the Rangers wanted to send a message to mainly the NHL Department of Player Safety and take matters into their own hands. The Rangers also wanted to show their support for Panarin in their next game against the Capitals on May 5th.

On May 5th, the Capitals and Rangers meet again under Madison Square Garden. As soon as the puck was dropped, both sides started to fight the opposing side. Capitals players Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, and Carl Hagelin faced off against Rangers players Kevin Rooney, Colin Blackwell, and Phil Di Giuseppe. All 3 of the Capitals players won their respective fights, and all 6 men were sent to the penalty box for 5 minutes. They would soon be joined by Capitals Tom Wilson and Rangers Brendan Smith, who immediately went after Wilson as soon as Wilson got in the rink. Both were given penalties, 5 minutes for Wilson and 17 minutes for Smith, who received a 10 minute misconduct. The next fight that broke out was between Capitals Michael Raffl and Rangers Anthony Bietto, Raffl winning the fight and both being sent to the penalty box for 5 minutes. The final fight that broke out was between Capitals’ Lars Eller and Rangers’ Ryan Strome. This time, the Rangers were able to defeat the Capitals in a fight, but both were sent to the penalty box once again for the same amount of time as the others already in the box. All of these fights took place in less than 5 minutes of the first period and a combined total of 72 minutes.

By the end of the first period, both teams combined had 20 penalties as well as a 100 penalty minutes. Before the second period started, the Capitals announced that Tom Wilson won’t be returning due to an upper body injury. Forward Julien Gauthier for the Rangers would also not return to the game due to a lower body injury. The rest of the game went on to go more smoothly, most likely due to Wilson no longer being a part of the game. By the end of the game, 141 penalty minutes was totaled, including a 5 minute major against the Rangers due to Buchnevich, the same player being shoved into the ice by Wilson in the last game, who cross-checked Capitals Anthony Mantha in the face. 

Despite all the chaos that happened in this game, another storyline took place. Capitals TJ Oshie announced on May 4th that his father, Tim Oshie, also known to many as, “Coach Oshie”, passed away after a long battle with Alzeimer’s disease. Many remember Tim Oshie after an interview back in 2018 with TJ Oshie after the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. In the video, an emotional TJ Oshie mentions that his dad was at the game and even though his dad doesn’t remember much, he’s definitely going to remember this night. 

To celebrate and honor Tim Oshie’s life, the Capitals had all of their players wear a sticker on their helmets labeled “Coach.” While Oshie didn’t play in May 3rd’s game against the Rangers, likely due to the news of his father, Oshie did play in May 5th’s game.

In his first game since his father’s death, Oshie was able to get a hat trick, which are 3 goals scored by the same player in one game, during the game against the Rangers. After scoring his 3rd goal, which was an empty net goal in the 3rd period, Oshie got surrounded by his teammates and can be seen getting emotional after sitting back down on the bench. Oshie is also the first Capitals player to get a hat trick this season.

The game ended with a 4-2 victory for the Capitals. Despite losing, the Rangers were satisfied with the way they stood up and credited the Capitals’ players for allowing them to resolve everything on the ice. 

This isn’t the end of the domino chain however. The New York Rangers were fined $250,000 by the NHL for their public statement they posted on May 4th. The fine also came along with a statement and reason for the fine, with the NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, declaring, “Public comments of the nature issued by the Rangers that were personal in nature and demeaning of a League executive (George Parros) will not be tolerated. While we don’t expect our Clubs to agree with every decision rendered by the Department of Player Safety, the extent to which the Rangers expressed their disagreement was unacceptable. It is terribly unfair to question George Parros’ professionalism and dedication to his role and the Department of Player Safety.

Rangers’ player Pavel Bunchnevich was also suspended for one game due to his cross-check on Anthony Mantha on May 5th’s game. Both the Rangers being fined and Bunchnevich being suspended caused outrage once again from fans who believed that it’s not fair that Bunchnevich was suspended over something less serious than what Wilson did to Panarin who was also never suspended and only fined.

In his first public statement since everything that happened, Tom Wilson covered all that has happened after May 3rd’s game. Wilson defended his stance on the fight between Panarin, saying that it seemed like a routine hockey scrum and that he believes Panarin felt the same way as he does. Wilson also commented that he wasn’t thinking in the moment and the amount of chaos that happens during a scrum doesn’t help. Wilson also mentioned his current status on his injury as well as Panarin, saying, “I’m feeling good. I’m glad Panarin is doing well. He’s better. I reached out to him, and that’s really what matters right now.” Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin also reached out to Panarin to see how he was doing on his recovery. 

For now, the Capitals vs Rangers saga seems to have come to an end. With the Rangers eliminated and the Capitals moving on to the playoffs, the two teams aren’t going to be facing each other until next season. However, after everything that has happened between the two teams, will there be a newly formed rivalry? We’re just going to have to wait and see when the two meet once again.