Saturday was a rough night for the Nashville Predators.
First, the St. Louis Blues locked down the third spot in the Central Division. Mere moments later, a late Blake Wheeler shorthanded goal pushed Nashville to a 2-1 regulation loss against Winnipeg, so now the Predators will finish behind the Calgary Flames.
So, to recap:
The Flames will be the first wild card in the West. They’ll face the Pacific Division champ, whether that be the Anaheim Ducks or, by a longer shot, the Edmonton Oilers.
The Chicago Blackhawks will hold home-ice advantage against the Nashville Predators in a first-round series since the Preds finished as the second wild card.
It's #Blackhawks-Preds in the first round. The last two times the Hawks played Nashville in the first round, they won the Stanley Cup.
However you feel about the way the hit on Toby Enstrom played out – many believe the Jets defenseman put himself in a vulnerable position – it’s clear that the Penguins recalled Tom Sestito because they anticipated a physical game on Wednesday.
Now, the maliciousness of such intents? That’s where things get fuzzy and controversial, prompting Jets head coach Paul Maurice to possibly get himself in a little trouble.
Maurice noted that there was “no cost” to the Penguins to call up Sestito, a player who hadn’t appeared in the NHL since November. When asked if he believes that Sestito was recalled to do something, Maurice responded “They didn’t call him up to dangle.”
After that zinger, he went back into dry coach mode when asked if Sestito should be suspended, merely saying that he’s sure the NHL has a “plan” about him.
Maurice noted that Enstrom has been hospitalized out of fear of facial fractures, noting that the Jets lost a “good defenseman” on Wednesday.
Here’s full footage of Maurice’s comments:
"He’s at the hospital now getting checked for facial fractures." Maurice gives the update on Enstrom, and discusses the loss to Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/FFYB3GjUmv
For what it’s worth, the Jets weren’t negative toward the Penguins in every regard, as Blake Wheeler said he respected that Evgeni Malkin “answered the bell” for a controversial hit by engaging in their brief fight.
"A lot of respect for him answering the bell… It was good to get that out of the way." Wheeler on Malkin, and the loss to Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/a8yYUEB6yQ
Blake Wheeler might have won the fight, but Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins ultimately got the best of the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.
The physicality (sometimes outright dirty play) seemed to really focus Malkin, who scored two goals and one assist – actually getting a “Gordie Howe hat trick” – as the Penguins beat the Jets 7-4.
Nick Bonino might have had the best night of all, generating a hat trick. It’s just the second of the underrated forward’s career:
The Jets actually carried a 3-2 lead into the second period, when Pittsburgh rattled off four goals, with three coming on the power play. It was a rough night for Connor Hellebuyck, who allowed five goals on 15 shots before giving way to Michael Hutchinson.
This win strengthens Pittsburgh’s grip on the third spot in the Metro, also putting them in a virtual tie with Columbus for second place (the Blue Jackets hold tiebreaker advantages).
The Jets, meanwhile, seem precious points slip away as they’ve dropped two straight games.
#NHLJets lose 7-4 to #Pens and fall to 30-32-6. Jets five points behind #stlblues with 14 games to play. Blues also have three games in hand
You can see that hit in the video above. Things have been heated between the two teams from the start, largely due to the carryover hostilities regarding a controversial Evgeni Malkin hit on Blake Wheeler. (Wheeler briefly dropped the gloves with Malkin in retribution tonight, as you can see here.)
We’ll see if there is any supplemental discipline for Sestito. Considering the fact that this is his first game with the Penguins since Nov. 16, it’s unlikely that the team will be particularly moved if the rugged player does get suspended.
Update: Paul Maurice provided a worrisome update regarding Enstrom.
Maurice says that Enstrom is at the hospital being checked for facial fractures. #NHLJets
Most people probably don’t expect a lot of vitriol between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets, but there sure seems to be some hard feelings between the two teams.
While it wasn’t a lengthy bout, Blake Wheeler got revenge on Evgeni Malkin for a controversial hit by landing a quick flurry of punches in a rare fight for the two.*
If that was too “amateurish” for you, Tom Sestito engaged in a heavyweight fight with Chris Thorburn not long after. You can see both fights and the general violence between the two teams in the video above. There was also some pretty hectic scoring:
Malkin has scored a goal in this game so far, while Winnipeg is leading 3-2 in a busy first period, so it remains to be seen which star forward will have the last laugh on Wednesday.
After the Penguins’ 7-4 win, Blake Wheeler said he respected Malkin for “answering the bell” while the Pittsburgh star admitted that his hit was questionable:
Malkin on the fight: "I knew it wasn't a great hit. I respect (Wheeler). I was ready. Wasn't my greatest fight, couple punches. I lost" -SK