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Tom Wilson of Capitals latest 'unexpected hero'

Fourth-line forward scores in overtime of Game 1 against Maple Leafs

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz was talking Thursday morning about how the Stanley Cup Playoffs often produce "unexpected heroes," role players who come out of nowhere to steal the spotlight from the big stars in the biggest moments.

"This is the time where guys can make names for themselves," Trotz said, not knowing that Tom Wilson would later make him look like a prophet.

Wilson, a fourth-line right wing and reliable penalty-killer, scored 5:15 into overtime to give the Capitals a 3-2 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Verizon Center on Thursday.

 

[RELATED: Complete Maple Leafs vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

It was the first NHL playoff goal for Wilson, a 23-year-old Toronto native who grew up rooting for the Maple Leafs, and completed Washington's comeback after trailing 2-0 in the first period.

"Obviously, pretty crazy," Wilson said. "Once the puck goes in, it's a whirlwind. … You know what? It's a good feeling. Hopefully we keep building those good feelings and keep it rolling here."

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Wilson on his game-winner in overtime

Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is at Verizon Center on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC).  

The Capitals felt fortunate to escape with a victory in Game 1 after falling behind by two goals in the opening 9:44. Although the Capitals are the repeat Presidents' Trophy winners and heavy favorites in the series against the young, inexperienced Maple Leafs, with their nine players making their Stanley Cup Playoff debut, Washington appeared to be the more nervous team early. Toronto came at them with speed and pressured them into repeated turnovers and bad decisions.  

But two goals from clutch veteran Justin Williams, who usually saves his heroics for Game 7, pulled the Capitals even 2-2 with four minutes left in the second period. Although the Capitals turned up the pressure on Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen in the third period, they were not able to put the go-ahead goal past him in regulation.

In overtime, Wilson appeared to surprise Andersen with his shot from the far side of the right circle. After gloving down a clearing attempt out of the right corner from Toronto defenseman Martin Marincin, Wilson thought he heard a teammate calling behind him to leave a drop pass (Maple Leafs center Brian Boyle was the only player behind him), but he put the puck on net instead and beat Andersen over his glove on the short side.

"I just decided I was going rip it on net," Wilson said. "No bad shots in overtime, and it found the back of the net, and obviously the celebration kind of started."

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Wilson snipes short side for OT win

Wilson described that celebration in the right corner as being punched in the head repeatedly by his teammates, but he didn't seem to mind.

"I was saying to [center Jay Beagle] before, you've lived this moment in your brain when you're a young kid in the backyard or whatever when you're 8, 9, 10 years old," he said.

Except back them, Wilson wasn't dreaming about scoring against the Maple Leafs in the playoffs.

"Maybe I was a Leaf at the time, when I was a little guy," he said.

Wilson's favorite Toronto player when he was growing up was Darcy Tucker, an energetic role player who sometimes pushed the limits of legality to irritate opponents. Wilson, selected by Washington in the first round (No. 16) of the 2012 NHL Draft, has a little bit of that in his game, but he has yet to show he can score like Tucker, who topped 20 goals six times in his 14-season NHL career. Wilson has 21 goals in 313 games with the Capitals, including seven this season.

But on Thursday he turned out to be the kind of hero Trotz was talking about.

"Tom was really good," Trotz said. "I thought his game early in the game was just like the rest of us; it wasn't very good. You throw pucks to the net. Unexpected heroes, that third and fourth line, all of the time can be a difference-maker, and tonight it was."

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Trotz discusses Capitals' Game 1 win

Ironically, when Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was asked about Wilson on Tuesday, he said he wasn't worried about him having an impact on the series.

"Nothing against [Wilson], because he works hard and all that, but he's not as big of concern as a lot of people on their team," Babcock said. "He's a forechecker and he works hard. I think their fourth line has been real good for them. In saying that, they've got a lot of players that we'll concern ourselves with more."

Yes, Wilson saw that comment. 

"Yeah, I am on Twitter," he said.

But, Wilson acknowledged, "It's a pretty true quote." 

He then rattled off a list of the Capitals' top scorers: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

"There are other guys that they have to worry about," Wilson said.

But on this night, as Trotz predicted, it was a player like Wilson who made the difference.

"You know what? I'm glad that he said I worked hard," Wilson said of Babcock. "That's a compliment. I'll take that. There's a lot of threats in this room, and that's all he was saying. It maybe came off a little bit of the wrong way, but we went out there and we played. He's a respected coach in this league, and we'll leave it at that."

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