Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It wasn’t pretty and like Game 2, came with its share of controversy, but the Capitals pulled out a 4-3 win on Tuesday night in Game 3 of their second round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. While the heroics of captain Alex Ovechkin ultimately decided the game, it was a hit by Capitals right wing Tom Wilson on Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese that has many talking about not only Wilson and the subsequent three-game suspension he received, but the physicality that is now beginning to define this series.
Wilson avoided a suspension on a hit to Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin in Game 2 a few days ago and many in Pittsburgh are calling for his head after delivering a controversial hit that according to Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike Sullivan, has broken Aston-Reese’s jaw and given him a concussion. While Wilson’s two big hits have played a part in the intensity of this series’ first three contests, the series as a whole seems destined to become far more physical. The two teams combined for 93 hits in Game 3 and have a combined 225 hits in only three games.
Whenever these two teams have met in the past, it has always been a physical affair, but the intensity at which the physicality picked up after Aston-Reese left Game 3 was alarmingly different than games in the regular season. In today’s NHL, players take exception to any big hit (no matter how clean it may be – not referencing the Wilson hit), and therefore any player willing to take the body is on the radar of the opposing team. With Wilson (who has led the Capitals in hits the last few seasons) out for the next three games (should the series go that far), the Capitals will need other physical players such as defenseman Brooks Orpik and Ovechkin to throw their weight around in what will almost certainly be an intense Game 4.
While the Caps are focused on winning Game 4 and their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup, they must also prepare to face the inevitable fire that the Penguins will play with at home after not only a loss in Game 3, but the loss of a key, young player in Aston-Reese. And if the first three games of the series are anything to go by, the physical play is about to get serious.
By Michael Fleetwood