Lubomir Visnovsky of the Islanders leaves the game after a hit by Tom Wilson of the Caps.
Confidence, anxiousness and anger were all among the emotions in the Islanders locker room on Wednesday afternoon. But above all, there was disgust.
Several players were quick to criticize Washington forward Tom Wilson for his freight train charging penalty on Lubomir Visnovsky during the second period of Game 4. The blow will likely leave the Islanders down another defenseman for Thursday’s Game 5 in Washington with the series tied 2-2.
“We could have easily hit a lot of guys like that too, but we stay within the rules and play the game the right way,” a seething John Tavares said. “The puck wasn’t even close to where Lubo was, so it was just a complete target of a defenseless player.”
While trying to retrieve a loose puck behind the Islander net, Visnovsky turned and took the shoulder of the 6’4, 210-pound Wilson right to the face. Wilson had recently left the penalty box for kneeing Josh Bailey. A veteran defenseman with a history of concussions, Visnovsky laid motionless for several moments before slowly skating to the dressing room. He did not return. Several Islanders players believed Wilson left his feet and did not make a play on the puck.
Jack Capuano didn’t offer an update on Visnovsky’s condition, but the edge in the Isles voices seemed to suggest that he won’t be around any time soon.
“(Wilson) went in to hurt our guy obviously,” Visnovsky’s defensive partner Thomas Hickey said. “Lubo is a 5’10 guy with a head injury and you go and make a hit like that… it’s so hard (not to retaliate). Anyone else, I guess it’s OK, but with Lubo, you know his head issues. It makes me sick to my stomach to see him hurt and not feeling good.”
Visnovsky, 38, missed 30 games this season for various injuries and rest, but began heating up toward the end of the regular season and the playoffs. Entering Wednesday night’s games, Visnovsky’s plus-5 rating in the postseason led the NHL. The veteran also tallied a pair of assists and played solid defensively in his four postseason games.
The Isles are already short-handed at the blue line without Travis Hamonic (apparent knee injury) out of the lineup. The two most likely candidates to replace Visnovsky would be Matt Donovan or Griffin Reinhart, who have just 75 games of experience combined, none of them in the postseason. Capuano didn’t completely shut the door on giving Ryan Pulock a shot at his NHL debut either. The 20-year-old right-handed shot scored 17 goals for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL and would ideally fill Visnovsky’s spot on the power play and jump start a man advantage that has gone 0-for-10 in the series. No matter the substitute, Visnovsky’s replacement will be a downgrade.
“If Visnovsky and Hamonic are both out, obviously they’re big holes to fill. Who are we kidding? They’re two of our best guys back there,” Capuano said. “It’s a chance and an opportunity for other guys to step up. This happens as you move forward to reach your goal of winning a Stanley Cup whether it’s on defense or up front.”
…Mikhail Grabovski (concussion) could be a Game 5 replacement up front. He has not played since Feb. 19.
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