Columbus rivalry makes Penguins’ Garrett Wilson feel right at home
A home-and-home series – like the one the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets are currently in the middle of – is a relatively rare occurrence in the modern NHL.
The Penguins, for instance, have only three of them on their schedule this season.
For someone like winger Garrett Wilson, though, it’s old hat.
Wilson has split time between the NHL and the AHL throughout his eight-year NHL career. In that league, home-and-home series are commonplace. For example, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will play nine sets of consecutive games against the same opponent this season, four in a home-and-home setup and five others consisting of back-to-back games against the same foe in the same city.
For Wilson, who plays with a physical edge to his game and has collected 46 fighting majors in his professional career, that means one thing first and foremost: Animosity.
“Anytime you see a certain player or team a few times in short period of time, you start to get a hate on for them,” Wilson said. “The things in the first game carry over a little bit sometimes.”
While Thursday’s game between the teams – a 3-0 Penguins victory – was hardly a bloodbath, it was very obviously a physical, hotly contested late-season matchup between two rivals.
In the second period, after Adam McQuaid knocked Patric Hornqvist to the ice with a shove to the back behind the play and a minor melee developed, Wilson dropped the gloves with Columbus captain Nick Foligno.
Given the stage of the season and the tightness of the standings, Wilson doesn’t expect any rampant fisticuffs when the teams meet again Saturday night in Columbus. He does, however, expect another physical test for the Penguins.
“They’re a hard team,” he said. “They’re a physical team. We know they’re going to give us their best game. We’re coming down to the wire in this playoff race. Don’t have many games left.”
It would be virtually impossible for any team to unseat the Flyers as the Penguins’ top historical rival. Even Jack Johnson, who is at the epicenter of the Penguins-Blue Jackets rivalry because he played for one team for six-plus years then signed with the other in July, knows that.
“The Penguins-Flyers one, that’s the first big rivalry that I’ve really been a part of,” Johnson said. “When I was in LA, there was kind of a Kings-Ducks, but we had never played in the playoffs. Rivalries are different in the playoffs. For me, the biggest rivalry for sure has been Pittsburgh-Flyers that I’ve been a part of.
“There’s history there. There’s a long history. It’s not just two playoff series. Columbus-Pittsburgh is what, four years old?”
In the moment, though, in the middle of a home-and-home series, animosity between the Penguins and Blue Jackets runs hot.
The Penguins have a four-point lead over Columbus, which is stuck in ninth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. A loss on Saturday would put the Blue Jackets in a terrible spot. The Penguins, of course, would like to give it to them.
“Right now this one might be more intense, just because of the standings,” Wilson said. “Every division game is a big test and a big rivalry. We know it’s a game we have to win.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .