It wasn’t the kind of Myles Garrett-esque bashing that will have the whole country talking, but the Washington Capitals‘ biggest, most brutal fight of the season is sure to leave a mark.
But the game will be remembered for emotions boiling over and culminating in Hathaway spitting on Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson, which could earn Hathaway further punishment from the league.
“That’s about as low as you dig a pit, really,” Gudbranson said. “It’s a bad thing to do. It’s something you just don’t do in a game, and he did it.”
Hathaway expressed regret for his actions after the game.
“It has no place (in the game). It was an emotional play by me,” Hathaway said. “You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me after a sucker punch.”
Chippy play and bruising hits pervaded the first two periods. At one point, Anaheim blueliner Brendan Guhle tripped the Capitals‘ Brendan Leipsic coming out of a faceoff, which led to some shoving. But in the final minute of the second, Leipsic landed a booming shoulder check to send the Ducks’ Derek Grant to the ground, and a six-player fight broke out behind Anaheim’s net right as Stephenson potted his goal.
Leipsic fought Gudbranson while Grant challenged Hathaway — and Hathaway clocked him and dragged him back to the ice.
Referee Peter MacDougall tried to keep Hathaway from taking on two more Ducks at the same time. MacDougall didn’t hold Hathaway and Gudbranson far enough away from each other; Gudbranson sucker-punched Hathaway, and he responded with the spit.
“First there was a fight and then how I saw it was they had a third man in,” he said. “I think they had a fourth man in, too. The refs were trying to break it up and it felt like there was a couple sucker punches thrown and I got there one quick and then reacted a little emotionally and unfortunately spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went on to him.”
Coach Todd Reirden said the Capitals will have to see whether the NHL will call Hathaway for a hearing and what it means for the roster, which is already hard up against the salary cap.
“I have a lot of time for Garnet Hathaway,” Reirden said. “He’s a stand-up guy, a first-class guy, and he was getting punched by a couple different guys at once and lost control of his emotion and did something that there’s no place for in the league. That’s disappointing and he feels terrible about it. But he didn’t have to talk to anybody today, but he’s the first one who said, ‘I want to own up for what I did.’”
The Ducks had a different view, of course.
“At the end of the day, it’s probably the least respectful thing you can ever do to somebody,” Grant said.
“I didn’t even know Chandler scored until the dust was all settled,” Leipsic said. “It was nice to get a goal out of it too, I guess.”
The Capitals took the lead in the first minute of the game and never relinquished it. Panik, a Washington free agent signing this summer, ended his season-long drought and recorded his first point as a Capital with a wrister goal on the first shift of the game. Panik missed 10 games on long-term injured reserve, but since returning he still hadn’t been able to convert until Monday.
Travis Boyd, promoted to the third line with Panik and Lars Eller after recent good performances, snapped a pass from behind the net to Panik at the left circle. Panik’s shot split a narrow opening between defenseman Cam Fowler and goalie John Gibson.
“Obviously it’s nice to have the first one of the year off your chest,” Panik said. “I wish I didn’t (not) have a point until this point, but it just started creeping in my head. But I was working hard, staying positive and now it’s going to go other way.”
The Ducks scored a pair in the third period to make things interesting, but Wilson scored on their empty net to ice it.
The Capitals visit the New York Rangers Wednesday before they get to pump the brakes a bit. They’ve played a league-high 23 games to date, but after the New York trip the Capitals will have one game in six days.
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