Confession: I have no hot takes to offer on the hit Tom Wilson laid on Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4 of the Islanders-Capitals series.
I'm just not seeing red over a hit that was penalized and subsequently un-capitalized upon by the Islanders thanks to a woefully stagnant and ineffective post-season power play. Losing Visnovsky, the Islanders' "Silver Fox" who is an important part of both the offense and the locker room, is a huge blow to their chances of winning two of the next three games.
But these are the playoffs and there must be heroes and villains. If you're an Islanders fan today, your view is probably that Wilson, who has the reputation of playing like a wild mustang out there, is a head hunter who targeted the smaller, older Visnovsky in order to remove him from the Islanders' arsenal. If you're a Caps fan, Wilson's hit could stand as an exhilarating turn of the series and just the snap Washington needed to reassert themselves.
Islanders fans want Wilson suspended for the hit. Caps fans want the .gif of it hanging in the Smithsonian.
The divide between the players is more or less along the same lines. In a story by the Washington Post's Alex Prewitt, Wilson contended that the hit was clean and that he was "gliding in" to Visnovsky.
"Obviously, the call was charging," he said. "I had the puck and kind of shot it on net, I don't think...maybe took one stride. I was gliding in, see it was a pretty big collision and the ref makes a call based on what he felt at the time. I look at it a couple times. I think everyone in the room felt it was fairly clean.
Wilson's coach Barry Trotz also felt the hit was clean and was in-line with what the Islanders fourth line trio of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, who have the reputations of playing like a herd of wild mustangs out there, have been doing to the Caps. Trotz meant the comparison as a compliment.
"It was a hard, clean hit," he said. "He didn't leave his feet, he stayed low, puck's right there, all those things. Tom Wilson didn't do anything other than run him over. Tom Wilson's a lot bigger than their player and he hit him clean. It's really no different than like Martin or Clutterbuck or Cizikas, they're hitting hard and they're hitting clean."
The Islanders minced no words about what they thought was a premeditated hit on a defenseless player. Their big beef was with the fact that Visnovsky had played the puck well before the hit and wasn't able to brace himself for Wilson's elbow making contact with his lowered head.
Okposo on Tom Wilson: "He's an idiot."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) April 22, 2015
Hickey: (Wilson) went in to hurt our guy... (Lubo being hurt) makes me sick to my stomach." #Isles— Stephen (@StephenCLorenzo) April 22, 2015
JT: The puck wasn't even close to Lubo, complete target of a defenseless player— Stephen (@StephenCLorenzo) April 22, 2015
Tavares is always diplomatic, you rarely hear him talk like that. #Isles being so upset suggests Lubo won't be around— Stephen (@StephenCLorenzo) April 22, 2015
Adding fuel to the fire this morning was Capitals forward Brooks Laich, who was a guest on DC sports radio show, "The Sports Junkies." Laich seemed to split the difference between thinking the play was indeed a penalty and somehow advocating the targeted elimination of one of the opposing defensemen.
Host: What was the one where he completely leveled the guy and they gave him charging.
Laich: Yup. He got a tripping before that, then a charging. Willy is really a big, strong guy. You guys should meet him in person just to see the size of this guy. Anything that he hits is gonna move. He just runs through people like they're not even there. That one is maybe a little questionable. Maybe the puck was a couple of feet away, but once that guy gets moving, look out. He's not gonna stop, he's gonna run right through you. Just a big, strong kid and I'm glad we've got that guy on our team.
Host: Do those kind of hits build momentum? They put you in a penalty kill situation, but do you somehow strangely build momentum from that?
Laich: Yeah, absolutely. We killed the penalty off, which is great, you want to do that. But those are the types of penalties that the killers will go out there on a mission to kill it. They'll say, 'absolutely, we'll kill that off.' And what it did was Visnovsky got knocked out of the game. That puts them down to five D, in the second tier, which, with the way we play with a heavy forecheck, a grinding forecheck, where we always finish our checks, five or six defensemen is tough enough, but playing with five it's even more difficult. So it's a quote-unquote 'good penalty to take.' It knocks them down to five defensemen. We kill the penalty off, we get momentum and we can really start to lean on those defensemen, those five guys left.
Wilson won't be hearing from the NHL's Department of Player Safety, per ESPN's Katie Strang, so you can expect to see him at Verizon Center for Game 5 on Thursday night.
Per the rules of engagement, the Caps won Game 4 on Nicklas Backstrom's overtime goal, so they get to smile and strut and Wilson gets to be the BMOC, while the Islanders stew about opportunities missed (mostly on penalties to Wilson) and contemplate various revenge scenarios on their flight to Reagan International.
But maybe the best look at both sides of the issue comes from a guy who knows a thing or two about hitting, Matt Martin. Again, via Strang:
"Obviously, it's a fine line," Martin said after Tuesday's optional practice at Nassau Coliseum. "You see one of our guys go down like that and you get a little upset, but at the same time you have to realize there's a lot at stake."
Said Martin: "The most important thing is winning. You want to be physical, but at the same time you have to be disciplined."
The series is tied at two games apiece. The best revenge for the Islanders would be taking a 3-2 lead back to Long Island.