Rasmus Ristolainen likes to hit people. He had a big one lined up.
It cost him most of one game. It could cost him more.
After getting kicked out of Buffalo’s 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh, Ristolainen will wait to see if the NHL’s Department of Player Safety wants to have a few words with him. It’s possible after he concussed the Penguins’ Jake Guentzel.
“He’s a physical player,” Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said in KeyBank Center. “He likes to play a physical game. He loves that part of the game. In no way is he a dirty player. He’s a player that plays hard, but he plays honest.”
The referees didn’t think so in this instance. They booted Ristolainen just 8:46 into the game for his hit on an unsuspecting player.
The Penguins were trying to find Guentzel with an outlet pass to clear their zone. Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons intercepted, which left Guentzel moving forward but looking back.
Ristolainen spun backward into Guentzel to deliver a jarring hit. The whiplashed forward crashed to the ice, then fell back down in a daze when he tried to stand up.
Ristolainen with a brutal hit on Guentzel.. pic.twitter.com/ixpiDviM1e
— Hockey Central (@HockeyCentraI) March 21, 2017
Ristolainen.. gets a game misconduct. pic.twitter.com/GpOensJA91
— Aivis Kalniņš (@A_Kalnins) March 21, 2017
“He’s diagnosed with a concussion,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re hopeful that it won’t be an extended period of time, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Ristolainen had left the Sabres’ arena by the time the dressing room opened. Both teams had comments on the hit, though they differed in opinion.
“I thought it was bad,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said. “The puck doesn't get to him. He's looking to get the puck to get into the play, and the guy holds up a second and then he still goes through him.”
The officials dinged Ristolainen with five minutes for interference and a game misconduct.
“I don’t like the fact that he got ejected,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s an unfortunate play. He’s stepping up on Jake Guentzel, and the puck that is coming to Guentzel is stopped by Zemgus. Guentzel is unsuspecting at that point in time.
“Rasmus is committed to the hit, and it’s an unfortunate hit.”
The fact Guentzel was defenseless and suffered an injury will work against Ristolainen in any hearing.
“The puck was on its way to the player, and Risto was committed to stepping up and taking the body,” Gorges said. “The puck stopped and didn’t continue to go. I don’t know if Risto saw that. I think he thought on 99 percent of the plays that puck continues forward onto the guy’s tape and it’s a good hit.
“It’s one of those things that’s a split second. You have to really watch it over and over to see if there’s any type of discrepancy in that, but it’s unfortunate to see a guy get hurt.”
The league has put the onus on players to avoid those type of hits. It will surely clock the time Ristolainen had or didn’t have in making its discipline decision.
“In Ristolainen’s case the game happens really fast, and he may have saw it differently than we did,” Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary said. “Jake was a little bit blindsided, and it’s tough to see a guy go down like that.”
With their minute-hogging defenseman gone, the Sabres improvised. Zach Bogosian played a career-high 33:29. Gorges (22:05) and Jake McCabe (24:01) skated four minutes more than usual. Rookies Brady Austin (19:00) and Casey Nelson (16:21) also had significant ice time.
“It was a tough go for our group,” said Bylsma, whose team gave up two goals in the final 5:29 after Sam Reinhart tied the game. “I didn’t think we did a good job in the second period relieving the pressure with our play and taxed them too much there in the second period, and at the end of the game we had a couple guys with 30 minutes. That’s a lot of minutes for those guys to be logging against a good team.”
Said Gorges: “Losing our No. 1 guy, it’s always going to be tough. We were OK, but we didn’t do enough good things to give ourselves a real good chance. Especially through the second period, I felt like we weren’t good, especially through the neutral zone.
“We played way too much in our end, and I think ultimately that tires you out going into the third.”