The Rangers and Capitals combined for 72 penalty minutes in the first 4 minutes, 14 seconds of their game Wednesday night, their first meeting since Washington forward Tom Wilson injured New York star Artemi Panarin earlier this week in the same building.
There were six separate fights to start the game at Madison Square Garden, including a line brawl one second after the opening faceoff. The Capitals defeated the Rangers 4-2 in a game that ended up with 141 penalty minutes.
"I definitely think we felt the need to take matters into our own hands a bit," Rangers center Ryan Strome said. "I thought it was a great response. And hats off to them for answering the bell. They knew our frustration. We solved it and played the rest of the game."
Both teams put out forwards from their bottom six to open the game. For the Capitals, it was Nic Dowd, Carl Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway fighting the Rangers' Kevin Rooney, Colin Blackwell and Phillip Di Giuseppe, respectively.
"Most of the guys that fought today were pretty disappointed and would have liked to respond in the previous game. The guys that wanted to step up did," Strome said.
100 penalty minutes combined were assessed between the Rangers and the Capitals in the 1st period alone. pic.twitter.com/zqLWZlyYMo— ESPN (@espn) May 6, 2021
Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith then fought Wilson on his first shift, 50 seconds into the game. Smith was given an instigator minor penalty and a 10-minute misconduct. The Capitals announced during the second period that Wilson would not return with an upper-body injury.
"You guys watched what happened the game before. I really don't want to touch on it too much. It's been exhausted already," Smith said. "I thought that it should have been handled before this game, and it wasn't, so unfortunately it had to be on my shoulders, and I took it."
The first period ended with the teams combining for 100 penalty minutes. There was no score after one.
All of this happened in the aftermath of Wilson's antics Monday. The controversial winger, who has been suspended five times by the NHL, was fined $5,000 by the league for punching Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich in the back of the head while he was face down on the ice. In the second period Wednesday, Buchnevich was given a game misconduct for a cross-check.
On Monday, after Panarin jumped on his back to break up another altercation, Wilson threw the Rangers winger down to the ice. The Rangers said Panarin suffered a lower-body injury on the play and would miss the team's final three games of the season.
After the NHL Department of Player Safety opted not to suspend Wilson, the Rangers released a statement blasting the league and calling for the job of department head George Parros. Multiple sources have told ESPN that the statement was commissioned by Rangers owner James Dolan.
Rangers coach David Quinn said he was proud of how his team responded.
"To me, when something like that happens, it certainly speaks volumes about how these guys want to play for each other and stick up for each other in difficult circumstances," he said. "We all saw what happened the other night. Nobody is happy about it. I couldn't be prouder of these guys."
For the Rangers, the chaos on the ice was matched by the chaos off the ice for the team on Wednesday. New York shocked the hockey world by announcing that general manager Jeff Gorton, the architect of their rebuild, and team president John Davidson "are leaving the organization."
Associate general manager Chris Drury was promoted to president and general manager of the team.