CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — To be clear, it’s not that I agree with the NHL’s decision to let Tom Wilson skate on his check to Brian Dumoulin‘s head in Game 2 of the Penguins-Capitals second-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
Quite the contrary, actually. If I were in charge of the league, I would make any check to the head a penalty. We’ll see how many ‘accidents’ happen then.
Clearly, though, if Wilson’s hit was deemed not worthy of a penalty at the time and not worthy of supplemental discipline upon video review, then players have to protect themselves in situations like the one Dumoulin found himself in during the first period Sunday.
Less than 24 hours after getting sandwiched by Wilson and Alex Ovechkin, Dumoulin was a limited participant in Monday’s practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, absorbing no contact but running through most of the drills. He said he went through concussion protocol Sunday evening but felt good enough to break a sweat Monday.
Let’s give him the chance to describe what he saw on the play.
“I got the puck behind the net,” he said, with the right side of his face looking a little bruised. “I knew Wilson was coming from behind. At that point, I looked up. I saw ‘Ovi’ coming. I just tried to make a pass through him and tried to brace myself for ‘Ovi.’ I didn’t know Wilson was there at all. I was just bracing for Ovechkin.”
Dumoulin was asked directly if he thought the hit was “dirty.” He dodged the question a bit, but you could tell from his response he felt the league’s determination on the play wasn’t fair to him.
“I wasn’t ready for Wilson at all,” Dumoulin said.
Per Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.com, the NHL Department of Player Safety said it felt “contact with the head was unavoidable on the play, and Dumoulin bracing himself for the Ovechkin hit materially changed the position of his head prior to Wilson making contact with him.”
For what it’s worth, Dumoulin wouldn’t say whether the ruling disappointed him, because he just wants to focus on getting himself ready for game action again.
“I care more about myself than I do him,” he said, referring to Wilson.
As you might expect, Dumoulin’s teammates were a little more willing to come to his defense on the subject of Wilson getting off scot-free.
While Justin Schultz called Dumoulin’s appearance at practice “unreal,” he was sullen on the topic of the NHL’s decision.
“Obviously it’s a little disappointing, but we can’t do much about it,” he said.
Kris Letang admitted to being confused about the lack of consequences for Wilson, but took more of a zen approach.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “Because we don’t know anymore. We can’t control it so we can’t be frustrated about it. We’ll start Game 3 like nothing happened.”
Sidney Crosby, who himself was the victim of a questionable hit (by Matt Niskanen) in Game 3 of last year’s series against the Capitals, thought there would be some sort of discipline meted out to Wilson, if only because Kings defenseman Drew Doughty missed a game because of a shoulder-to-head check against Vegas’ William Carrier in the first round.
Should Drew Doughty be suspended for his hit? He has a hearing at 4:30pm ET pic.twitter.com/J7yU60Cyn7
— SiriusXM NHL Network (@SiriusXMNHL) April 12, 2018
“Just based on what you see around the league,” Crosby said, “I thought there was going to be something there.”
But there wasn’t something there, at least there wasn’t in the eyes of the NHL’s DoPS, led these days by longtime former enforcer/goon George Parros. As you might imagine, Wilson’s postgame comments Sunday indicated he was just as surprised by the three-way collision as Dumoulin.
“I’ve watched it briefly, and I don’t realize what I can really do any different,” Wilson told reporters Sunday at Capital One Arena. “At the last second, I see ‘Ovi’ coming in, and you can see me bracing too. I end up getting kind of taken out as well.
“The way I look at it, there’s no way I can get his head from that point where I am. He stops and turns and I’m kind of right there as ‘Ovi’ (is) coming in pretty aggressively. It’s a collision. I end up getting blown right out of the water, too. It’s a bit of an unfortunate play that he got hurt.”
With all that being said, I thought it was fair to ask a defenseman what a player in Dumoulin’s spot could possibly do to protect himself. Matt Hunwick figures to draw into the Game 3 lineup if Dumoulin can’t go; he said he didn’t see a way out for his teammate, at least he couldn’t from his vantage point in the press box.
“It’s hard to know who’s behind you sometimes,” Hunwick said. “You’re always looking at the play in front of you. (It doesn’t help) that ‘Dumo’ had the puck, so his eyes are up the ice. It’s hard to know who’s tracking, coming from behind.”
That’s about as far as Hunwick would go. Obviously a player carrying the puck is always going to have a heightened awareness for incoming opponents, or at least he should.
Still, when seeking to avoid a thunderous impact puts you in the line of fire for another stealth hit, it appears there’s nothing a player can do except hope for the best.
“They say I stopped and whatnot,” Dumoulin said, “but I was just trying to take an impact from ‘Ovi’ and I got caught in the head.”