Looking Back at MSG Fight Night I: Rangers, Caps and the Beef with Tom Wilson

May 5, 2021, tied an MSG record for the fastest fight start in any sports game played at the legendary arena after the Rangers and Capitals engaged in a 3-on-3 line brawl right off the opening faceoff.
Washington Capitals v New York Rangers
Washington Capitals v New York Rangers / Emilee Chinn/GettyImages
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This past Wednesday, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils kicked off their 4th and final meeting of the regular season with a bang- just 2 seconds after the first puck was dropped, all broke loose with a 4 on 4 line brawl between the long-time Metropolitan Division rivals. It was reminiscent of the last time the Rangers squared off in such circumstances and magnitude, which happened to be May 5, 2021, against the Washington Capitals. And even before that game started, tensions between the Blueshirts and Caps were at a boiling point.

The previous game between the two squads happened just that many days earlier, and at the same location, the fabulous Madison Square Garden. In addition to the 6-3 home loss, Rangers star Artemi Panarin had come off with a worse punishment. During a scrum after a cheap shot by Washington's perennial cheap shot artist Tom Wilson, the then 30-year-old was yanked around, nearly suffering a serious injury. Wilson only got a subpar fine out of the whole ordeal, which was already insulting, especially given the fact he'd also delivered a prior cheap shot to now-former Ranger Pavel Buchnevich in the very same sequence.

All this set the tone for the May 5, 2021 clash at the Garden. A total of 6 players immediately broke into fisticuffs off the opening faceoff, 3 on each team, the Rangers choosing Colin Blackwell (now a Blackhawk), Kevin Rooney (now of the Calgary Flames) and Phillip de Giuseppe (now of the Vancouver Canucks). Washington had Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway and Carl Hagelin, Dowd the only member still actively playing. And this went down even before Wilson took the ice. Once he did at the 50 second mark of the opening period, the Rangers' Brendan Smith, who funny enough is now in Jersey, made a beeline for Wilson and picked himself up the trifecta of fighting penalties, 5 for the fight itself, another 2 for starting said fight, known as the "instigator" and was then promptly tossed for the remainder of the game after receiving the longest penalty in the game today, the infamous 10 minute game misconduct.

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The Rangers' fight first attitude would unfortunately not help them that night, as they'd take their 2nd straight defeat to Washington in that 3 day span, this time by a score of 4-2. It would lead to a further downfall at the end of the 2020/21 season, as they'd miss the playoffs with a 5th place divisional finish, 11 points short of a wild card spot. At least in the New Jersey game this season, they pulled off a convincing win, and in tight fashion too, a 4-3 win, just like all the other contests between the two Metro rivals in 2023/24.