WASHINGTON — Ryan Reaves didn’t wink or make a sly smile or do anything else that would give off the impression he was trying to troll Washington’s Tom Wilson.
The Golden Knights’ rugged right wing genuinely meant the following comment:
“To be honest, I feel like I might like Tom Wilson off the ice,” Reaves said Friday. “I don’t know him. I’ve heard some good things about him.”
Reaves and Wilson have been two of the league’s toughest heavyweights since the latter entered the league in 2013 and have had multiple run-ins the past six seasons, including a memorable flashpoint that went viral from their most recent meeting in December.
But as they prepare to renew the rivalry Saturday when the Knights make their lone regular-season visit to Capital One Arena, Reaves provided a unique perspective on what makes it different than his feud with San Jose’s Evander Kane.
“It’s funny in hockey, you have rivalries on the ice where you look like you want to kill each other, and it’s true. On the ice, I absolutely do, for both those guys,” Reaves said following the Knights’ practice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. “But I’ve had rivalries in the (American Hockey League) before where I’ve fought a guy and gone out for beers with him after. That’s just how sports is sometimes.
“I’m sure we’re never going to be friends on the ice. I’m sure it’s not going to start (Saturday), but I think it is a little bit different with me and him than with me and Kane.”
Unlike his deeply personal conflict with Kane — Reaves has refused to comment on Kane’s pending legal issues with The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas —the battle with Wilson is more akin to two alphas trying to establish who is the neighborhood’s toughest dude.
“You can look around the league, and there’s not many Tom Wilsons or there’s not many Ryan Reaves, those types of players. Big, physical guys,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “When they play their hard game, it’s tough to play against them and compete against them.”
Although they’ve fought only twice in the regular season, and not since 2014 when Reaves dropped the 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound Wilson with a right hand to the ear, there have been several notable incidents.
During Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2018, Reaves was penalized for clocking Wilson in the face with a punch/cross-check as the Capitals’ enforcer skated over to protect a fallen teammate. The two targeted each other the remainder of the five-game series won by Washington.
But everything came to a head in the Knights’ 5-3 victory on Dec. 4.
In the second period, Reaves blindsided Wilson after he released a pass, knocking off his helmet. Wilson hit his head on the ice and suffered a concussion as a result.
Reaves was issued a five-minute major penalty for interference and a game misconduct, and one quote from his postgame interview quickly spread on social media.
“He was just looking at his pass and ran into a lion in the jungle,” Reaves said.
The next day, Reaves was widely criticized after he signed several pictures of the play that included the inscription “He ran into a lion in the jungle” for a Las Vegas-based memorabilia dealer. He apologized, and the pictures were destroyed, according to a Knights spokesperson.
Wilson did not participate in the Capitals’ optional practice Friday and was not available to the media.
“If he feels that something needs to be done, I’m more than willing to answer the bell. I think everybody knows that,” Reaves said. “And if he doesn’t think anything needs to be done and he wants to play hockey, we can play hockey.”
To that end, Reaves hopes a victory over the league-leading Capitals (12-2-3, 27 points) can be a springboard for the Knights, who have blown third-period leads in three of their past four.
The Knights were unable to hold the lead in Toronto on Thursday and lost 2-1 in overtime but have secured three of a maximum four points to start this four-game road trip.
“At some point, there’s a tipping point where you have that one good game against a good team that seems to bring everything together and then all of a sudden it starts clicking,” Reaves said. “I think we keep coming out with the right intentions. We just have to finish, and (Saturday) is going to be a good test.”
Who: Golden Knights at Capitals
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, Dish 414/5414)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Capitals -135; total 6½ (over -115)