Pittsburgh Penguins rout Winnipeg Jets in grudge match, 7-4

By Geoff Kirbyson, The Sports Xchange  |  March 9, 2017 at 6:15 AM
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March 9 (UPI) -- WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Old time hockey broke out at the MTS Centre on Wednesday evening as the Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins played a game that would make the Hanson Brothers proud, with the visitors coming out on top with a 7-4 victory.

The tone was set less than four minutes into the first period when Jets captain Blake Wheeler challenged Penguins sniper Evgeni Malkin to a scrap to settle a feud that has been boiling since Malkin hit Wheeler with a head shot in the Penguins' 4-3 victory Feb. 16. Wheeler wasn't injured on the play, Malkin was penalized but not suspended but all the talk leading up to Wednesday night's game surrounded that story line.

There was no question that the fight was prearranged when Malkin dropped his stick after a face-off in the Jets zone and met up with Wheeler 30 feet in front of the Jets net.

"He asked me," Malkin said. "He looked at me before the (face-off) and he said, 'you want to go?' I said, 'I respect you. I'm ready. Okay, let's go."

It was a short tilt with Wheeler throwing all six punches and sending Malkin to the ice.

"After he gave me a 'good job,'" Malkin said.

Indeed. If that wasn't enough, with two goals, one assist and a fight, Malkin recorded the first Gordie Howe hat trick of his career.

"I have not many fights, you know? Maybe four fights for me," he said.

The fictional Hanson Brothers were stars of the infamous hockey movie Slap Shot, and used their hands to pummel opponents rather than score goals.

Third-line center Nick Bonino used his hands in a different way by producing the second hat trick of his career while Matt Murray overcame a shaky start to turn aside 32 shots in the Penguins net.

Penguins left winger Jake Guentzel and defenseman Justin Schultz also scored.

The Jets (30-32-6) had three one-goal leads in the first period, thanks to left wingers Shawn Matthias and Nik Ehlers, and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, finishing the first 20 minutes with a 3-2 advantage but the Penguins (41-16-8) scored four in the second frame -- including three in 57 seconds -- to salt the game away.

Connor Hellebuyck gave up five goals on 15 shots before being pulled in favor of Michael Hutchinson in the second period. Hutchinson stopped 15 of 17 shots in relief.

The much-feared Penguins power play, which is the NHL's third best, was 3 for 5 while the Jets were scoreless in five opportunities with the man advantage.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he was impressed that Malkin answered the call but he'd prefer he leave the fighting to others.

"He's an elite player. He's a powerful guy and he's one of the few players in the league who can change the outcome of a game,'' Sullivan said. "We have a couple of them on our team and he's one of them. Certainly, we'd like to keep him on the ice as much as we can. He's a brave guy, he's a competitive guy and I thought he played hard tonight."

When asked if he expected Malkin and Wheeler to tangle at some point during the game, Sullivan was succinct.

"No."

He did, however, believe that there was some emotional carryover from the Feb. 16 game in Pittsburgh. Jets right winger Chris Thorburn and freshly-recalled left winger Tom Sestito of the Penguins also squared off two seconds after Malkin and Wheeler were sent off.

"Both teams have so much at stake,'' Sullivan said. "I think the focus is on trying to win the game but these guys are competitive guys and they're emotional guys. I'm sure the physical play was part of that."

Aside from the fights, the most physical play of the night came when Sestito ran Toby Enstrom into the boards in the Jets zone shortly after the midway point of the first period.

The Jets defenseman crumpled to the ice but was able to skate off to the bench under his own power. He did not return to the game and was reportedly taken to hospital with possible facial fractures.

Jets coach Paul Maurice obviously wasn't happy to see his best puck-moving defenseman knocked out of the game and perhaps longer. When asked if he felt Sestito was called up from the minors to inflict damage like that, he replied, "Well, he wasn't called up to dangle."

The coach was non-committal when asked what he hoped the league would do once they saw video of the hit.

"Well, they've got their own plan, I'm sure," Maurice said.

Most players after scoring a hat trick are the talk of the game but Bonino was content with being one of the sub-plots.

"It's been a while since the first one," Bonino said, referring to February 2013 when he had his first three-goal game of his career as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

"The first one went in and you're always feeling a little bit better and then it just seemed like the puck was finding the net for (us) tonight. I can't really explain it but guys made great passes and guys forechecked hard and the puck just found my stick and found the net."

NOTES:

-- In the press box for the Penguins were RW Carter Rowney, RW Patric Hornqvist and D Derrick Pouliot. D Kris Letang (upper body) did not make the trip.

-- The Jets' scratches were D Mark Stuart, RW Nic Petan and G Ondrej Pavelec (knee surgery).

-- Penguins D Ron Hainsey, who played for the Jets from 2011-13, is preparing for his first appearance in the playoffs after nearly 897 regular-season games. It is the longest such streak in the league.

-- Jets rookie RW Patrik Laine leads all first-year players with 59 points (32 goals, 27 assists). Toronto C Auston Matthews is second with 55 points, including 31 goals.

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