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Tom Wilson Earned A Game-Winning Assist By Getting Punched

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 21: Elvis Merzlikins #90 of the Columbus Blue Jackets fights Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals in a goal during overtime at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on December 21, 2023. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The catch-22 with pests is obvious. Ignore them and they will only escalate their annoyances. Retaliate, and they've succeeded in their ignoble goal. Tom Wilson, the Capitals' agitator extraordinaire, started messing with Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins on the first shift of the game, kicking one of Merzlikins's legs as he skated through the crease. The two jawed throughout the game. This is a big Wilson thing: to pick one player, and pick on that player for the entire night. It's more efficient and targeted and effective than just being a dick at all times. It works well. It got bone-deep under Merzlikins's skin.

"He slew-footed me the very first shift," Merzlikins said, "and he was after me all game long. ... I’m pretty sure he was trying to get me hurt." 

What are you supposed to do if you're Merzlikins here? Do nothing? Try to win the game and let that be your response? Sure, maybe that's a fine revenge, but it's woefully unsatisfying. Much more fulfilling would be to hit the guy. But that's an option rarely afforded to goalies, who must stay inside their little nets, and mustn't take their eyes off the puck, not even for a few gratifying swings. But sometimes the hockey gods smile upon you, and present you a prone pest in your own home, and then you give in the little shoulder devil that's been yapping at you all game long, and that's how you lose.

In overtime of a 2-2 game, Wilson did not try very hard to avoid being shoved into Merzlikins's crease, and atop his stick, and did not try very hard to extract himself in a timely fashion. That's when Merzlikins saw his chance.

Merzlikins was called for roughing, and the power play gave Washington a 4-on-3 of which Alex Ovechkin took full advantage, sinking the winner from his office. Columbus's coach Pascal Vincent, who notably did not have to test his willpower not to punch Tom Wilson, was disappointed in his netminder. “Tom Wilson’s job is to get in people’s faces, and get in the goalie’s face,” Vincent said. “He’s creating a lot of emotions. The emotions were high. He did what he had to do, and we reacted. It cost us the game.”

Merzlikins on the other hand was unrepentant, saying of Wilson, "He got what he deserved. I don’t care."

I find this refreshing, and I hope Merzlikins enjoyed those brief few seconds of indulgence, because he then had to skate off past a giggling Caps celebration scrum. Cold world out there.

Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images
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