The emotions seemed to hit T.J. Oshie at that moment, skating back to the bench after securing his hat trick, flinging a long-range effort into the empty net.
His teammates mobbed him in a group hug. Then Oshie sat, head down, tears in his eyes, the last few days coming into focus.
Oshie’s dad, Tim, died this week. He was 56. But as a coach’s son, Oshie returned to the ice as soon as possible. And with his dad in mind, he guided the Washington Capitals past the New York Rangers with three goals Wednesday night, adding a different kind of emotion to a game that began with tempers flaring and fights galore.
When the final horn sounded, Oshie didn’t leap onto the ice with the rest of his teammates. And Nicklas Backstrom noticed. So Backstrom pulled Oshie into another hug, holding onto the winger, reminding Oshie that teammates and families are one in the same.
“I saw he got emotional there at the end, which was understandable,” Backstrom said. “I just felt like he needed a hug. I think I told him, like, ‘You’re the strongest person I know.’ I mean, first of all, it’s so impressive that he actually played today, and how he led the way. I mean, it’s gotta be so tough. I can only imagine. We’re a family. We’re in this together. His loss is everyone’s loss.”
Oshie’s father, who was universally known as “Coach,” was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. That made travel difficult as the years went on, but Coach made it to Las Vegas for one special night: June 8, 2018.
That’s when the Capitals bested the Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup Final in Game 5. Coach was on the ice with Oshie after the contest, and he lifted the Cup alongside his son.
“What a great human being. What a great man. What a great father,” Oshie said after the game. “Some things slip his memory these days. But this one, I think this one’s going to be seared in there. I don’t think any disease is going to take this one away from him.”
Oshie announced his dad’s death Tuesday on Twitter, writing that “heaven received a legend today.” He had missed Washington’s game on Monday, a 6-3 win against the Rangers, but the 34-year-old wouldn’t spend any more time away, arriving in New York on Tuesday night.
“There was no way he wasn’t playing,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
Once the Capitals navigated six fights in the first five minutes of play Wednesday — retribution from the Rangers after Tom Wilson wasn’t suspended for his role in a scrum Monday — Oshie took over the game.
Oshie tallied his first goal 12 seconds into the second period, whistling a shot past the goaltender. Later in the period, Oshie batted a loose puck in for his second. And with under two minutes to play, Oshie sealed the victory with a long-distance empty-net goal, prompting the group hug.
“It was just such an emotional night for T.J. He’s been such a big leader for our team,” Nic Dowd said. “And we were trying to be there for him and take care of him, and then he ends up taking care of us.”
The win pushed Washington into a tie for first place with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East Division, and the fights early in the game threatened to distract the eye.
But there was something far more important Wednesday night than playoff seedings or scuffles. So once the final horn sounded, Backstrom held onto Oshie just a little bit longer.
“I have nothing but love for my teammates,” Oshie tweeted Wednesday night. “I will be forever grateful for this night and especially because I got to share it with my brothers.”