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This article was published 17/5/2018 (463 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LAS VEGAS — He was a late scratch for the Winnipeg Jets, sidelined with some kind of mystery injury or ailment before Game 3 against the Vegas Golden Knights.
So will Nikolaj Ehlers be back in the lineup for Game 4 Friday?
"I’ll tell you what. I’ll think about that and then I’ll get back to you. You’ll know at the morning skate," head coach Paul Maurice said Thursday in response to a question about the status of Ehlers.
There’s just one problem — the Jets aren’t having a morning skate, with Game 4 starting at 5 p.m. Vegas time.
So the question will likely keep swirling right up until game time. Ehlers missed Game 5 of the first-round series against the Minnesota Wild with what Maurice called "malaise." He played the entire seven-game series against the Nashville Predators and the first two games at home against Vegas.
For what it’s worth, Ehlers was spotted playing soccer with teammates in the halls of T-Mobile Arena on Thursday.
Ehlers is in a severe drought, with no goals in his past 15 games. He has seven assists in 13 playoff games. The Jets have confirmed he was not a healthy scratch, but offered no details on what has sidelined him.
Maurice moved Brandon Tanev into Ehlers’s spot on the line with Paul Stastny and Patrik Laine.
As if trailing 2-1 in the Western Conference final wasn’t bad enough, Laine was hit with another whammy on Thursday.
One of the assembled media members asked if he’d heard the result of the Finland vs. Switzerland game at the IIHF World Championship.
"Uh, what was the result in the playoff game? I don’t know," Laine said.
He was informed Switzerland had won.
"Oh. Oh, that’s not good. It’s not good. That ruined my day," Laine replied.
Connor Hellebuyck has never lacked for confidence, even when he hasn’t been at the top of his game. So it was no surprise to hear the Vezina Trophy candidate candidly state this week that as well as Marc-André Fleury is playing for Vegas, he thinks his game is at an even higher level in this series.
"It’ll be across the crease, no chance in hell he’s getting that puck, and he believes he can stop that puck. I don’t plan to stomp that mentality. He believes he can stop every one, and then he moves on pretty darned well. He doesn’t carry it too heavy with him," Maurice said of his goaltender’s mentality.
"It’s going to be really interesting to watch him develop. I don’t think you can expect that his progress, from last year to this year — if he got that much better next year, 43 shutouts might be in his wheelhouse. He’s got confidence in the right way."
Jets forward Adam Lowry said that confidence is infectious.
"He’s got an extremely high belief in his ability," Lowry said. "He’s really poised in the net. You look at the way Carey Price moves around the net — I see a lot of similarities in the way he moves throughout the crease. He’s done a real good job of bouncing back after games where he hasn’t been thrilled with his effort. He’s been the backbone of our team all year."
As for Fleury, he appears to be having the time of his life leading the expansion Golden Knights to incredible heights. He even took some time out of Wednesday’s impressive performance to tickle Jets captain Blake Wheeler on the ear during a net-front scrum, saying after he was just trying to lighten the mood.
"I’d be having fun if I was up 2-1," Lowry said Thursday. "He’s playing incredibly well. Some of it, we think, there were a couple lucky bounces. But he’s an incredible goalie, and he’s incredible at scrambling. For us to make his job difficult, it’s about capitalizing on those second opportunities."
As for Fleury, there was a touching moment in the Vegas locker room following their 4-2 win over Winnipeg. He met with the family of Humboldt Broncos coach Darcy Haugan, who died in the horrific bus crash last month. They were flown in as guests of the Golden Knights.
"It’s such a sad story for all those families, right? That community. Obviously, they’re big hockey fans. For me, I’m fortunate I’m able to maybe just get them to think about something else a bit and try to make them smile a bit. I thought it was important to spend some time with them a little bit," Fleury said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Thursday, May 17, 2018 at 10:19 PM CDT: Corrects date reference