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Capitals' Wilson learning to pick spots with physicality

by Katie Brown / NHL.com

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Each game is a learning experience for Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson.

When Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik took a hard hit in the third period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Rangers, with the Capitals leading 1-0, Wilson took New York's James Sheppard to the boards and the Rangers were given a power play.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he had a chat about the play with Wilson.

"There's no need for him to make that hit," Trotz said. "It was a situation for support, not for contact. He's a young player. I tend to think he's sometimes a little older than he looks, but he's still a young player."

At times it is easy to forget that Wilson (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) is 21 years old. In his first full season in 2013-14, his 151 penalty minutes were second among NHL rookies and seventh in the League. He had 10 points in 82 games, then increased those numbers to 17 points and 172 penalty minutes in 67 games this season.

Wilson has grown up a bit over that time. He knows he has to pick his spots, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He doesn't want to be the reason the Capitals lose a game.

"In the playoffs it's a really fine line," Wilson said. "You play hard, you want to leave your mark on those guys, but you can't put your team down because one power play could potentially lose us the game or the series."

Though Washington's first-round series against the New York Islanders catered to Wilson's heavy-hitting style, he's found the Rangers series to be a little bit different.

"They're a hard team to hit," Wilson said. "They do a good job of coming up fast, getting the puck out of their zone fast, playing fast. We've got to do a better job of playing to our game, getting the puck in behind and getting physical, and leaving our mark a little bit."

In Game 3, Washington's fourth line of Wilson, Brooks Laich and Curtis Glencross provided a much-needed jump-start for the offense. It didn't score any points, but its tenacity in the offensive zone created a rhythm for the rest of the Capitals to follow.

It set a tone for the rest of the game and snowballed with Jay Beagle's game-winning goal in the second period. Washington leads the best-of-7 series 2-1, with Game 4 on Wednesday at Verizon Center (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2).

"[In Game 3] the fourth line had their best game," Beagle said. "It really gave us a lot of energy. They had the most chances out of any line 5-on-5, for sure."

Adapting his play from an extremely physical series has forced Wilson to find other ways to be effective besides finishing his checks, and that maturity is evident.

"They [the fourth line] were in there and hemmed them in and kind of did what we had been talking about: getting it deep and getting a cycle going and grinding them out and taking it to the net," Beagle said. "[Wilson] was a big part of that. The guy, he's a great player no matter what situation you put him in. I've been fortunate enough to play with him quite a bit and I know what he's capable of."

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