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The Great Hate: Animosity between Caps, Pens taking spotlight off of showcase series for NHL

The Capitals and Penguins have two star-studded rosters that should be showcasing the speed and skill of post-season hockey, but instead the series is being bogged down by the animosity-driven antics between the two teams.

PITTSBURGH – The winning goal by Alex Ovechkin in Game 3 was an absolute thing of beauty, the greatest goalscorer of his generation one-upping Sidney Crosby by batting his own rebound out of the air and into the net. Almost as impressive was the poised play Jake Guentzel made on a Crosby goal earlier in the game, undressing defenseman Dmitri Orlov before making the perfect pass. That’s 40 points in 34 playoff games for Guentzel, who is quickly forging a reputation as one of the most performance-elevating players in the NHL.

But is that what we’re talking about the day after the game? Of course not. Because NHL. We’re talking about Tom Wilson breaking an opponent’s jaw and concussing him and whether or not he laughed about it on the Washington bench after it happened. We’re talking about whether or not Sidney Crosby spit at the Capitals. And we’re talking about how much these two teams hate each other.

Goodness, you can almost hear the cheering from the NHL’s headquarters and from a certain Canadian broadcaster from here. The ‘we-sell-hate’ NHL just loves this stuff. It relies on this kind of garbage the same way most of us rely on oxygen. It seems that no playoff series can truly begin anymore until both teams get a nice, healthy hate-on for one another and start dragging the game down into the mud. And anyone who thinks this might not be great for the NHL is accused of preferring the league go to a 4-on-4 ringette format. And, oh yes, if you want to take hits like the Wilson hit on Zach Aston-Reese out of the game, then you might as well take hitting out altogether.

Funny, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of farmland near Pittsburgh, but the distinct smell of cow manure can be detected in the air.

As far as Wilson grinning like a Cheshire cat after he knocked Aston-Reese out of the series and into the hospital, Capitals coach Barry Trotz reported that Wilson was laughing because of something a Capitals teammate said to him after he came back to the bench. “I can tell you this,” Trotz said. “Tom is very respectful for anybody who is anything in a situation where he’s possibly injured. He wouldn’t do that. What was happening was 19,000 people were booing him and something funny was said on the bench and that’s why he was smiling. A guy made a funny comment, he’s got all his friends in the building, something like that. And that’s where the smile was. I do take a little bit of offense. He’s a hockey player, he understands. He’s reached out to people who have been injured. To me, that’s misplaced if you know anything about Tom Wilson. I understand how it looks, but that was not the case, for sure.”

It looked as though Jay Beagle was the one who spoke to Wilson on the bench before he laughed, and Beagle acknowledged he might have employed some of his wit in that situation. “I might have said a joke or two to keep it light.” Beagle said. “I don’t know if he heard me because the crowd was screaming so loud. I don’t know if he laughed at me or not.”

As far as the Crosby spitting incident was concerned, likely nothing short of a Zapruder-like investigation would definitively be able to determine what happened. The video does appear to look as though Crosby hocked a lougie (that’s how it’s spelled in the Urban Dictionary) at Evgeni Kuznetsov right when Ovechkin had grabbed him by the collar. “The video speaks for itself,” Trotz said, but Crosby also had an unlikely character reference in the Capitals dressing room. “I don’t know if it was an actual spit, you’d have to ask him,” said Capitals winger Brett Connolly. “It looked like someone grabbed him by the back of the shirt, so maybe it was a jerk reaction. Who knows? I don’t think he actually spit. I don’t think that’s his character. I don’t think he would go that far.”

So there you have it. Tom Wilson is a really wonderful guy who gets a bad rap and the laughing thing was all just a big misunderstanding. And Crosby probably doesn’t have overactive saliva glands.

But that’s what we’re talking about today because the NHL and hockey culture narrative want it that way. Carry on, then.

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