Paul Maurice (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)
Winnipeg center Bryan Little was caught mid-fall by Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman and it wasn't the first time that night that the Bolts defender had taken out a Jets player. Maurice was tossed by the refs and didn't like that official Francois St-Laurent was smiling about the incident.
It was not a good night for Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice. First and foremost, his Jets lost 6-5 in the shootout to Tampa Bay. But the health of his players was more on his mind after Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman caught two Winnipeg players with dodgy hits during the contest. Maurice was eventually ejected from the game and not only that, but referee Francois St-Laurent seemed to think it was funny (that's right at the end of this clip):
There's a lot to unpack here. Stralman did not get penalized for his hit on Nikolaj Ehlers or the more serious walloping of Bryan Little – that's what really got Maurice's goat. But after the game, reporters asked him what he thought of St-Laurent laughing after the ref tossed Maurice from the contest – to which the coach, with great measure, succeeded in being as diplomatic as possible.
Was this a bush league move by St-Laurent? Was it possible he was chuckling about something unrelated? Jets players didn't bail him out in their post-game remarks, with Blake Wheeler musing to the Winnipeg Free Press that perhaps refs should be subjected to post-game media scrums, as players are.
Now let's move on to the more serious hit, the one that knocked Bryan Little out of the game. Was it is a dirty hit by Stralman, a player who has never even crested 40 PIM in an NHL season? I'm on the fence because decision-making at that speed has to be very quick.
Little is knocked off-balance by Tampa's Victor Hedman and in one second or less, Stralman makes contact with Little's lowered head. Stralman appears to have the Jets center lined up before his head goes down, but could the Lightning D-man have bailed and gone with a safer stick-check once he saw Little in a prone position?
I know what most Jets fans would probably say. But how many acrobatics would Stralman have had to do to contort himself out of Little's way there? Probably more than he is morally bound to attempt. Sometimes, unfortunately, bad stuff happens on a sheet of ice.
And for the record, reports have already come out that Stralman will not face a hearing for the hit.