LAS VEGAS — Gerard Gallant and the Golden Knights still think Tom Wilson’s third-period hit on Jonathan Marchessault in the Stanley Cup Final opener was too late and probably a bit dirty.
The coach also believes it sparked his team’s comeback victory in that Game 1 thriller.
So while he wasn’t happy to hear Wilson will face no discipline from the NHL, Gallant is hoping his team will remember the hit — and more importantly, how they played right after it — when they attempt to take a 2-0 series lead on the Capitals on Wednesday night.
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“The good thing about the hit is it really woke our team up,” Gallant said after an optional practice at the Golden Knights’ suburban training complex. “I think it was a 4-4 game?”
Indeed, two novice Stanley Cup finalists were deep into an entertainingly ramshackle opener, but the Knights took charge after that fateful collision left Marchessault sprawled on the ice. Tomas Nosek quickly scored the go-ahead goal for Vegas, which eventually won 6-4 and surged one game closer to an improbable championship.
The focused aggression necessary to be a successful postseason team is a delicate concoction. The Golden Knights and Caps both had it during the conference playoffs, but they both admit it got away from them in Game 1.
“I think both teams can be better,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “It was a pretty sloppy game.”
After one game to get used to the sky-high stakes of the Cup, both teams intend to channel their nervous energy more constructively in the future. Both coaches stressed the importance of discipline, completing assignments and not allowing the frenetic Vegas crowd to overwhelm their emotions.
“There’s obviously nerves,” Washington’s Jay Beagle said. “I’m not surprised at anything anymore, but in the Stanley Cup Final, usually it’s 2-1 or 1-0, not [6-4]. But you don’t know what to expect from a team that you don’t know that much. Now we’ve got to know them a little bit more.”
The mistakes that worry coaches also lead to exciting hockey, and the opener was thoroughly entertaining even before Wilson lowered the boom on Marchessault. The teams combined for a Final-record four lead changes in the highest-scoring opener in eight years.
Wilson, who served a three-game suspension in the second round for breaking the jaw of the Penguins’ Zach Aston-Reese, and the Capitals still insist the hard-charging forward did nothing wrong when he leveled the Golden Knights’ top playoff scorer.
“It’s within the rules,” Wilson said after practice at T-Mobile Arena. “It’s a clean hit. I don’t know why it got so much media attention, to be honest. It’s a hard hit, but that’s the day and age we’re in. . . . I’m trying to play my game. There’s a lot of those hits that are going on, but it’s the Stanley Cup Final, and it’s within the rules.”
The NHL Department of Player Safety agreed when it decided not to discipline Wilson for the shoulder-to-shoulder hit, clearly deciding that Wilson’s timing wasn’t extraordinarily late.
Marchessault went to the dressing room and was examined for a possible concussion, but returned to the game. Gallant said the forward is feeling fine for Game 2.
The Capitals had their own complaint about Vegas forward David Perron, who jumped on the ice after the whistle and made contact with Alex Ovechkin during the scuffles immediately after the hit.
Once the emotions died down, both teams realized they’ve got to check their more primal urges if they hope to play a solid game.