The Winnipeg Jets will receive another huge boost to the lineup on Sunday, with Nikolaj Ehlers being given medical clearance for a return to game action.
“Skate, play simple and shoot the puck like Stas,” he laughed in his Sunday media availability following morning skate at the newly redecorated Bell MTS Place.
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) May 23, 2021
Ehlers, who has been out of Winnipeg’s lineup for the past month, last suited up against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home on April 24. Despite being able to enjoy his time as a fan the last few weeks, the speedy Dane is raring to get back into game action.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” Ehlers said. “It’s been a while so it’s gonna be good. It’s playoffs and they’re always fun games to play in. I’m extremely excited to get back out there.”
The 25-year-old winger was certainly missed by his teammates as well, with the club dropping six of nine games to close out the regular season without Ehlers in the lineup.
“You know, a lot,” Mark Scheifele said when asked what he misses the most not having Ehlers on the ice. “Obviously his speed, his creativity, his offensive game is huge. But the energy he brings on a night to night basis. He’s always energetic. He’s always ready to go. He’s always eager to get playing, and obviously we miss all of the aspects of his game. He was having such a fantastic year, and when you lose a guy with that skill and speed, with that deceptiveness in your lineup it’s a huge miss. He was having a great year. You miss a guy like that in your line-up every single night.”
Sticking with Scheifele, the Jets’ first line centreman also commented on the changes inside the empty rink in advance of the team’s first home playoff game without spectators in attendance.
“Well yeah, it’s very white, which makes it very bright out there,” he laughed. “Obviously, we wish there were fans in the stands wearing their jerseys and engraining that whiteout, so the atmosphere isn’t really going to change. It’s not like there is going to be extra noise because there is a bunch of white towels. It makes it bright, it makes it feel like it is home and a whiteout playoff game. So that’ll be nice.”
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The Jets had done a fabulous job of shutting down Edmonton’s attack through the first two games. Holding the Oilers to just one goal off the stick of Jesse Puljujarvi, both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have gone pointless through seven periods of play.
“The defensive part of the last two games has been really good,” Ehlers said in praise of his teammates. “They played together, they played as five-man units out there. You play like that, you’re also gonna get your offence. Maybe not as much as in the regular season, but looking at the results of the games, we’re pretty happy with that. It’s something we’ve got to continue doing and continue working on. There’s always some things you can do better but we’re happy with the way we played and we’re gonna continue that way.”
With Ehlers coming into the Jets’ lineup on Sunday, it means Dominic Toninato will draw back out, with a quick reshuffling of the lines on the bottom-six as well. Mathieu Perreault will slot back in alongside Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis on That 30s Line. The first and third lines will remain in tact, while Ehlers will join his pals Stastny and Dubois.
“The challenge for him is coming into a playoff series,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “But he’s been watching it and all I want him to do is play the same game that everybody else is playing. Make smart plays with the puck, play as hard as you possibly can and if you’ ve got a chance to shoot it, shoot it. That’s his game, so if he plays the same game everybody else is, we’ll be fine.”