Over the past year-plus, controversial winger Tom Wilson has been the centerpiece of the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
From an illegal hit that injured Zach Aston-Reese in last year’s playoffs to a right hand that gave Jamie Oleksiak a concussion in a fight early this season, Wilson has been a thorn in the side of the Penguins.
Erik Gudbranson is the latest player tasked with taking care of the Wilson situation, which can mean one of two things.
First, it can mean actually dropping the gloves and fighting Wilson if the situation calls for it.
The 6-foot-5, 217-pound Gudbranson is up to that challenge should it arise. He has 27 career fighting majors in the NHL, including a solid showing against Wilson in an October 2017 scrap.
“I’m OK with it. I’ve always been OK with it,” Gudbranson said. “I don’t particularly like talking about it. I’m certainly not going to say I’m looking for it. Never have. If the situation arises, I’ve never been one to back down. That’s sort of how I put it. I guess I can leave it at that.”
More likely, through, given how tight the Eastern Conference standings are and how late in the season it is, Gudbranson and Wilson will wage physical battles for valuable pieces of ice in front of the Penguins net.
Gudbranson is up for that, too.
“Obviously you’ve got to know he’s out on the ice,” Gudbranson said. “He’s a physical presence. He plays the game hard. He tickles that edge pretty much every game. You need to be aware of him, but there’s a number of other players as well you need to be aware of.”