Pittsburgh Penguins – When Pens winger Phil Kessel arrived at Ricoh Coliseum for Pittsburgh’s optional practice on Friday, he was met with a surprise. 

Instead of finding his gear in a locker stall, it was set up on a chair outside of the locker room, complete with a case of Coke-a-Cola, cups for coffee, some signs and a big sign above it all reading “The Phil Zone.”

The prank was the brainchild of center Evgeni Malkin and head equipment manager Dana Heinze.

The backstory is this. On Thursday the Pens were playing against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. However, there were only 24 locker stalls available and 25 players in attendance.

Heinze approached Malkin out of respect and asked if he would mind being placed in a chair, since he was not playing that evening against the Devils. Malkin, of course, was fine with it.

Heinze set out to find “the nicest chair possible,” and set up his gear on the seat. As the team arrived for the morning skate, Kessel began chirping both Heinze and Malkin.

He even tweeted a pic of the seat saying: “Pigeon couldn’t even get a regular stall.” 

So Malkin and Heinze put their heads together for some payback.

“It wasn’t my idea. It was Dana. He said we need to answer,” Malkin said. “I wanted to answer today and Dana helped me.”

“Today a little payback to Phil,” Heinze joked. “We gathered up his stuff and some things we thought he needed for practice today and set his stall up. It’s all in good fun.”

Except there was one thing missing in the stall according to Malkin.

“Hot dogs,” he joked.

Although, Malkin did have Kessel’s back on the hot dog issue.

“I love hot dogs, too,” Malkin stated. “But not in the regular season. Only in summer time. I’ve never seen him eat a hot dog, but it’s just joking.

“He’s a funny guy. He’s my good friend. He’s an amazing player and amazing guy.”

It was a nice showing of levity as the regular season winds down and the team begins to prepare for an intense playoff run. It’s also a display of the tightness amongst the group.

 “It’s an indication of how close our team is,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think they enjoy one another. They’re constantly running pranks on one another. I think that helps build the chemistry around the room. It’s all in good fun. Phil always seems to be in the center of all of that. I think it’s really good stuff. That’s an indication of the type of chemistry that we have in our locker room.”

And, of course, it speaks to Kessel’s good nature to be on the end of a prank.

“Phil is a great guy. He can take it as much as give it out,” Heinze said. “It’s fun having Phil around the room. To be able to do that on a practice day it was fun, and maybe helped the team keep loose today.”

As for the sign, “The Phil Zone,” Heinze jokingly had this to add:

“That’s the Phil’s zone. It’s Phil’s world and we’re all living in it.”

Word to the wise – never troll Evgeni Malkin with your twitter fingers unless you want your life to end in 5 seconds. And that goes for everyone; even if you’re name’s Phil “The Thrill” Kessel.

If you don’t love everything about both this, you have a big dump in your pants. Just two dudes trolling the hell out of each other right before they enter the most serious time of the year. You think the Caps are doing stuff like this right now? Hell no. This is what teams that win Stanley Cups do. They keep it loose when others get stressed.

I’ll admit that my confidence level took a hit the other day when it was announced that Letang would miss the rest of the season, but this picked me back up. Forget the upcoming playoff preview against the Blue Jackets. Pens in 3. Calling it now.