The Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t perhaps the spiciest game before the puck drop, and it’s not really a classic rivalry in the NHL.
But the game on Thursday was one that fans will remember for a long, long time.
Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins had an ongoing beef with tough guy Tom Wilson, and in overtime, things escalated, and it would eventually cost the Blue Jackets the game.
The incident happened 2:42 into overtime. Merzlikins had just stopped Martin Fehervary on a breakaway, and as the Blue Jackets had the puck, heading for a two-on-one and a great chance to win the game, the refs suddenly blew the whistle.
Tom Wilson had driven the net looking for a rebound, and Merzlikins took offense. The goalie went after him with shoves and punches as he was stuck in the net. The two traded punches at each other, but eventually, Wilson got the better of the goalie before officials separated them.
Merzlikins was the only player issued a penalty, a minor for roughing, and in the following power play for the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin won the game.
Postgame, Elvis Merzlikins explained what made him so angry at Wilson.
“It’s an emotional game,” Merzlikins said per Bally Sports Columbus. “[Wilson] slew footed me my first shift. And he was after me all game long. So I was trying to grab my stick, I got punched in the head. Before that, I’m pretty sure he was trying to get me hurt. I was just trying to get my stick. I got punched. Enough. I’m going to defend myself.
“I mean, I don’t think any other player on their team would try to hurt me,” he added. “Watch the replay. He was going straight for my knee. I could be out for the rest of season. He got what he deserved. I don’t care. Seriously, I could be out for season. He was going straight in my knee at full speed. I get it he was driving the net. I get it. But he could avoid. A lot of players avoid goalies. He was definitely not avoiding me. I was just trying to get my stick. I put my catcher on his back. I didn’t do anything. I got punched straight in the face. He got the response.”
Wilson and Merzlikins had several incidents during the game. Not just early in the game, but also in the second period, when Wilson slashed the goalie’s glove.
“I mean I was all night on Ovechkin,” Merzlikins said. “Felt pretty good stopping him. Saw him frustrated. It sucks that he scored the game-winging one. I think in general we did a good kill. We deserved to win tonight. Guys played really outstanding I think. We did really well with our jobs. I feel guilty, but at the same time, sorry. It’s emotional game. I reacted.”