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Wilson’s Moment of Glory

As a Maple Leaf-loving lad playing ball hockey in the hallways of North Toronto Arena, Tom Wilson imagined, like most boys do, of a day when he would enjoy NHL glory in his beloved hometown.

But the way it all became reality at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night, well, it might be considered far-fetched for even the most imaginative of Hollywood script writers.

Three minutes is all it took. Three action-packed minutes that, in the end, might have been the greatest snapshot of his hockey career, all in front of friends and family in the stands and a national television audience that was tuned in from coast to coast.

First, he saved what looked like a sure goal for the Maple Leafs. Then, less than a minute later, he scored one himself. Just 2:23 later, he did it again. Suddenly, the score was 4-1 for his Washington Capitals before the first intermission had even arrived.

And with that, the tale of Tom Wilson had gained even more traction.

Known more outside of Washington for his muscle than hustle, Wilson, 23, had been the unlikely author of stardom in Game 1 of this first-round series between the Capitals and Leafs last Thursday, scoring the overtime winner to give the hosts a 3-2 victory in front of a crazed, red-clad crowd at the Verizon Center.

Surely, very few had picked the pugilistic fourth-liner to be the hero, with Maple Leafs play-by-play man Joe Bowen echoing the sentiments of many hockey fans when, upon identifying Wilson as the author of the winner, described him “of all people.”

But for Wilson, the best was yet to come.

Six days later, entering Game 4, Wilson found himself bumped up to the third line with Lars Eller and Andrei Burakovsky. The Capitals had lost the next two games after Wilson’s heroics and found themselves trailing 2-1 in the series. Coach Barry Trotz wanted a spark and thought Toronto native Wilson could provide it. Good call.

The Caps were leading 2-1 early in Game 4 when Wilson took over. Three minutes. A save, a goal, then another goal. The best three minutes of his hockey life.

All from the winger who’d grown up about a 10-minute drive north of the ACC and spent a chunk of his childhood wearing a Darcy Tucker Leafs jersey.

“When you’re a kid, you always have big dreams, and I was kind of lucky enough to fulfil them,” Wilson said after the Capitals’ 5-4 victory, a scrum of about 20 reporters clogged around him. “It’s a huge privilege.

“There’s a lot of guys that work hard to get to this level, and if you ever play an NHL game, it’s special. A playoff game? Even better. So there’s going to be different guys who step up. I thought all our guys stepped up tonight. There was good scoring from kind of every line.

“You know what, it’s fun to win in Toronto for sure.”

The Caps had taken an early 2-0 lead on goals by T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin before the Leafs’ Zach Hyman narrowed the Washington lead to one goal, snapping the moribund throng out of its collective coma in the process. Then, with the hosts pressing for the equalizer, a puck squeezed through Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and appeared to be destined to trickle over the goal line.

Until a diving Wilson came to the rescue and scooped it away.

“Those plays go into slo-mo,” he said. “I could see (the puck) sitting on (Holtby’s) pants. And I know that with the shape of the puck, it’s going to fall down. So it was falling behind him and I just kind of had time to jump in and try and make a save there.”

Less than a minute later, at the other end of the ice, he deflected a bad-angle Lars Eller shot past Freddie Andersen to put Washington up 3-1. Not long after that, he drained a Burakovsky feed to increase the Caps lead to three.

When Wilson scored the winner in the opener, he received plenty of negative feedback on social media from bitter Leafs fans. He actually thought of closing his Twitter account at the time. Still, he held no grudge against the blue-and-white supporters in his home town. In his mind, he was coming back to Toronto to win games for the Caps, not popularity contests.

“You catch a lot of flak, but that’s just passion,” he said. “There’s people that like you, there’s people that hate you.

“I didn’t want to come to Toronto and be liked by the fans.”

Perhaps ex-Leaf Tucker best summed up Wilson’s night in a text to Postmedia.

“Stinks for the Leafs but great for Tommy,” Tucker wrote.

Right on both counts.

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