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Penguins' offense explodes to bail out Murray in win over Jets

| Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 11:12 p.m.
USA Today Sports
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates his goal with teammate Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) during the first period Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
USA Today Sports
Penguins forward Tom Sestito challenges Jets right wing Chris Thorburn (22) to a fight at the faceoff during the first period Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
The Jets' Blake Wheeler and Penguins' Evgeni Malkin fight during the first period Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
USA Today Sports
Penguins center Nick Bonino (13) celebrates his goal with teammates during the second period Wednesday, March 8, 2017, against the Jets at MTS Centre.
The Jets' Joel Armia (40) and Paul Postma (4) attempt to stop the Penguins' Scott Wilson (23) during the second period Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA — Nick Bonino's second-career hat trick included a pair of power-play goals Wednesday night, as the Penguins rode an emotional rematch with the Winnipeg Jets to a 7-4 victory.

A wild opening period lead to a nearly-as-wild second as the Penguins and Jets combined for 43 of their 73 total penalty minutes in the first period alone. Two seconds after Evgeni Malkin and Jets captain Blake Wheeler dropped the mitts three minutes into the contest, Tom Sestito and Chris Thorburn went at it. Two shifts later, Sestito was ejected, handed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom from behind and into the boards, forcing him to leave the game.

“I think the first period was very emotional,” said Bonino. “Obviously, Geno (Malkin) and Tommy (Sestito) had some good fights and it was a bit of a track meet. I think when we settled down in the second and played better defensively, that's where the offence came from and we were able to counter.

“Anytime you play in this rink I think it's a pretty emotional start. They come out really hard. When Geno answered the bell there I think that pumped our bench up — pumped there's up — and Tommy (Sestito) went out and fought right after… it was pretty intense after that.”

Malkin's second goal of the game came 20 seconds after Bonino's second as the Penguins struck three times in a 57-second span to take a 5-3 lead midway through the second period. Malkin finished with three points, including the game-winning goal.

“He asked me. He looked at me before the (face-off) and he said, ‘you want to go?,'” said Malkin of his fight with Wheeler. “I said, ‘I respect you. I'm ready. Okay, let's go.' After he gave me a ‘good job.'”

“He's a powerful guy and he's one of the few players in the league who can change the outcome of a game,” said head coach Mike Sullivan of Malkin. “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.”

Following his first-period pull after allowing three goals on 21 shots in his last start, goaltender Matt Murray weathered the storm Wednesday night as Shawn Matthias, Nikolaj Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien scored for Winnipeg on their first 11 shots on goal.

“Two fights back-to-back like that — you don't see that too much anymore,” said Murray of the emotional first period. “It just shows you that guys care and guys want to stand up for each other. Tommy Sestito and Geno (Malkin) both did a good job for us.

“There's no secret there,” added Murray of the freshly-stoked fire between his club and the Jets. “There were a couple hits last game that people weren't happy about, but once we got that out of the way it was just hockey from there. It was good.

“It's not the first period that we wanted, but it was pretty good after that.”

Murray finished with 31 saves, building on his NHL rookie-leading win total with his 25th of the season. Murray is now 8-2-2 in his last 11 decisions.

The Jets yanked goaltender Connor Hellebuyck from the game after he allowed five goals on 15 shots. The Penguins added another, Bonino's third, to take a 6-3 lead into the final period.

Jake Guentzel's ninth goal of the season came with less than four minutes to play to make it 7-3 before Winnipeg's Marco Dano beat Murray with a wrist shot at 18:45 of the third period.

The Penguins went 3 for 5 on the man advantage, with Justin Schultz's 12th goal of the season the first of three power-play goals in the second period. Their 20th-ranked penalty kill was perfect in five tries.

Bonino's second career hat trick — his first was Feb. 2, 2013, against the Los Angeles Kings as a member of the Anaheim Ducks — puts the 28-year-old at 12 goals on the season. It is the third time in Bonino's eight-year NHL career he has scored two power-play goals in a game.

The victory moves the Penguins (41-16-8) into a tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets (42-17-6) for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. They visit Columbus on April 6 in their second-to-last game of the regular season.

With one game down on their season-long five game road trip, the Penguins travel to Edmonton to face the Oilers (35-23-8) on Friday before visiting Vancouver, Calgary and Philadelphia over the next week.

Following the Sestito hit from behind that forced him to leave the game, Jets defenceman Tobias Enstrom was taken to hospital to check for facial fractures, according to Jets head coach Paul Maurice.

Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist was a scratch Wednesday night, diagnosed with a concussion in the morning. Mike Sullivan could not say when the injury was sustained, but said Hornqvist flew back to Pittsburgh. There is no timeline for his return.

Darrin Bauming is a freelance writer.

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