ARLINGTON, V.A. — In the opening minutes of Game 1 between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers, Tom Wilson was eager to continue setting the tone for the series. No. 43 already had a power-play goal and took a high stick to the face, and now, he was lined up for a big check on MacKenzie Weegar. He went all in, and that’s when things took a turn.
Wilson found himself coming in too fast and tried to slow things down by avoiding the hit. He turned to get onto his left leg, and then his knee tweaked. That was his final shift of the year.
“It was kind of a weird, kind of freak thing… it just kind of sucked that it happened at this time,” Wilson said. “I was pretty good all season. And then kind of a freak thing. Your guess is as good as mine… I tried it out and it was no good.”
The injury kept Wilson out of the lineup and listed as “day-to-day” as he dealt with a “significant” knee injury. The team wouldn’t disclose the exact nature of the ailment, but general manager Brian MacLellan said it was one that Wilson wasn’t going to return from.
Still, No. 43 asserts that he was already starting rehabilitation for it and being worked on, and if the playoffs continued for the Capitals, he was doing whatever he could to get back in the lineup and play through it.
“We have a great training staff, good doctors and it was one of those things where I was trying to be the unique situation or the odd person that can do it,” Wilson said. “You get a brace and you get out there, and there’s a chance. So I was trying everything I could. I just wasn’t able to do it.”
Wilson ended up skating twice and speaking with Jason Serbus and the team’s doctors to try and figure out a situation where he could dress for a game, but the season ended early, along with Wilson’s season. It wasn’t easy to absorb for the 28-year-old.
“I was trying to get back and trying everything I could,” Wilson said. “Every person you walk by, every fan, every person was like, ‘When are you back? We need you back.’ That was tough. I wanted to be out there. So, you feel like you let people down and that sucks… You try to play for your city and take pride in that, so that sucked.
“We’re a group, since I’ve been here, the expectation is to win and do well. Every game we go into, regular season or playoffs, we expect to win. That’s a culture that’s been formed here for many years. So when you don’t, you feel like it’s a bit of a failure.”
Going into the offseason, surgery is still on the table for Wilson, who will base his training and summer around what he needs to recover in time for the start of the season. He’s eager to get started with the process, which is without a doubt going to be a long one.
“In more ways than one, my summer sucks now. I’m the kind of guy, to have the uncertainty was tough… it’s going to be a grind for me,” Wilson said, adding, “As an athlete, it’s always nice to have goals and a clear mindset of what you need to do. We’re getting there with the doctors and we’ll go from there.”
Heading into 2022-23, Wilson knows that there are not only expectations to win, but expectations to follow up on a career year that saw him dish 24 goals, 28 assists and 52 points through 78 games and earn him All-Star status. So when it comes to the road to recovery, he knows there will be plenty of questions, and he hopes to have all the answers.
“There are a lot of question marks. For me, I need to get back to being the player that I am. That’ll happen,” Wilson said. “You just want to do all the research and ask all the questions and prep before you make any drastic decisions.”