One day later, the image of 6-0, 172-pound Nikolaj Ehlers engaging in the third fight of his NHL career with Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf, a 6-3, 228-pounder, during the third period of Winnipeg's 3-2 win over the Ducks Sunday afternoon brought smiles to the faces of his Winnipeg teammates.
And sure, the audacity was a little inspiring, too.
"I don't know if I recommend that one," said teammate Andrew Copp. "He kinda does what he wants out there, seems like. Yeah, (it) kinda got the bench riled up, for sure."
Added Patrik Laine: "We were kinda scared — scared for him. I guess he's a tough guy and Nikky showed he's a tough guy, too. He's a little bit smaller than Getzlaf but he has that kind of attitude right now that he can challenge, apparently, anybody in the league. It's good for the bench. I think he got the bench going and we were really pumped."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice was proud and relieved.
"At least he got up," said Maurice. "His hands were good, his face was good. We were happy for him. Nobody messed with him in practice today... Nikky's getting lots of room."
The unusual display of truculence was not something Maurice expected to see Ehlers repeat but he appreciated the spirit in which it was intended.
"Sure you do, but we're not sending Nikky out — trust me," said Maurice. "What you like on the bench is a certain emotional level that kinda gets you to that point. You're not looking for Nikky to fight anybody, but you love anybody on your bench that doesn't like the whack he took on the back of the legs, gives one back. He doesn't give an inch. He protects himself and if he ever got into one that he couldn't handle, four other guys are in there, as well."
HOMETOWN HOCKEY: Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who hails from Commerce, Mich., in suburban Detroit, will start Thursday's game in his hometown; No. 2 man Laurent Brossoit will get the call Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place.
Hellebuyck has superb numbers — a 2.20 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and a 15-7-2 record — and Maurice credited the 26-year-old with helping the club successfully transition to a new, relatively inexperienced defensive corps.
"What Connor's done is bought our defence time to build confidence," said Maurice. "Going back to tap you goalie in the pads to say 'thanks' is a whole lot different than going back and saying you're 'sorry.' You feel like you're letting the guy down. So they've fed off each other, emotionally for sure."
NOTEWORTHY: Centre Adam Lowry and defencemen Tucker Poolman, Neal Pionk and Nathan Beaulieu did not practise Monday but Maurice confirmed all four would be ready to play Tuesday against the Red Wings... Forwards Gabriel Bourque and Mason Appleton are expected to return to the lineup shortly.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.