WASHINGTON — Tom Wilson can still tick the names off the top of his head. The heroes of your youth never really age or fade away.
Darcy Tucker and Eddie Belfour, Mats Sundin and Curtis Joseph. Those were the hockey players Wilson loved to watch as a kid growing up in Toronto. Back then the Maple Leafs were Stanley Cup playoff regulars and getting to stay up on a Saturday night in the spring was a treat.
The memories remain, but Wilson is a grown man now with a job to do: Eliminate his childhood team from the playoffs as soon as possible and make his friends back home miserable. He helped the Capitals take a step toward that on Thursday night with an overtime goal at Verizon Center to lift his team to a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
“I was saying to [teammate Jay Beagle] before, you’ve lived this moment in your brain when you’re a young kid in the backyard when you’re eight, nine, 10,” Wilson said “Let’s just go out there and play.”
It took the Caps some time to heed that message. They were down 2-0 less than 10 minutes into the game and frustrated fans were yelling “Wake up!” in frustration. Washington eventually did. Veteran winger Justin Williams scored a power-play goal in the first period and jammed a shot home in the second period to tie the game.
That set up Wilson’s game-winning goal in overtime. There was no real thought to the play. He gloved the puck near the right boards and ripped a glove-side shot past Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen. There are no bad shots in overtime, after all.
“I thought [Wilson’s] game early in the game was just like the rest of us — it wasn’t very good,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “You throw pucks to the net, unexpected heroes on that third and fourth line all of the time can be a difference maker and tonight, it was.”
Wilson earned a little revenge on Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who made a clumsy comment early in the week about the young right wing. Babcock meant to say his team wouldn’t be concerned with Wilson’s physicality. It’s a big part of his game. Instead, he implied Toronto had far more dangerous Caps players to worry about than Wilson. It wasn’t a big deal, but it did blow up on social media.
“I am on Twitter,” Wilson deadpanned when asked if he saw the comments. “My feed kind of blew up so maybe turn Twitter off from now on. But that’s the way it goes nowadays with social media. You grab those headlines and kind of everyone sees them. When it comes down to it, it’s not going to change the way I play or the team plays or the way he coaches.”
The Caps take a 1-0 series lead into Saturday’s Game 2 at Verizon Center. It could have easily gone the other way after the slow start and an overtime period where anything can happen. But Williams, who has a penchant for dramatic playoff performances, helped settle them and Wilson finished the hero.
“Everything’s about momentum,” Williams said. “They certainly had it to start and we kind of calmed down, settled the nerves and we did what we wanted to do: come back from (down) two goals. Now you keep the pressure on.”
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