Byfuglien expected to make immediate impact against Habs

Dustin Byfuglien will make his long-awaited return to Winnipeg’s lineup when the Jets host the Montreal Canadiens tonight (6 p.m., Sportsnet) at Bell MTS Place.

The 34-year-old defenceman, sidelined for the last 19 games with an ankle injury suffered on Feb. 14, has been sorely missed by his teammates who are playing their final home game of the 2018-19 regular season tonight.

“He brings a lot to this team, not just on the ice, but off the ice, too,” said left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers following Winnipeg’s morning skate. “He knows, not the situation we are in, but we haven’t played the way we wanted to play and he’s been around that. I think he’s pretty excited for tonight as well.”

The Jets, 45-28-4, are tied for first place with the Nashville Predators in the Central Division with five games remaining.

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Dustin Byfuglien will make his long-awaited return to Winnipeg’s lineup when the Jets host the Montreal Canadiens tonight (6 p.m., Sportsnet) at Bell MTS Place.

The 34-year-old defenceman, sidelined for the last 19 games with an ankle injury suffered on Feb. 14, has been sorely missed by his teammates who are playing their final home game of the 2018-19 regular season tonight.

“He brings a lot to this team, not just on the ice, but off the ice, too,” said left-winger Nikolaj Ehlers following Winnipeg’s morning skate. “He knows, not the situation we are in, but we haven’t played the way we wanted to play and he’s been around that. I think he’s pretty excited for tonight as well.”

The Jets, 45-28-4, are tied for first place with the Nashville Predators in the Central Division with five games remaining.

The Habs, meanwhile are 41-29-8 and tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Montreal has four games left.

Byfuglien, who has four goals and 30 points in 37 games, is expected to have an immediate impact on the Jets, who blew a third-period lead in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders Thursday. Head coach Paul Maurice said Byfuglien will get second unit power-play duty immediately.

Dustin Byfuglien will return to the Jets' lineup tonight after being off since mid-February with an ankle injury. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>
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Dustin Byfuglien will return to the Jets’ lineup tonight after being off since mid-February with an ankle injury. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

With Byfuglien going back in, rookie defenceman Sami Niku is expected to be a healthy scratch. In addition, centre Matt Hendricks will come out with Jack Roslovic returning to Winnipeg’s lineup.

“He’s a skilled player. He can throw his body around, obviously,” said Ehlers of Byfuglien. “But it’s also off the ice. He comes in with some jokes. I don’t know how to say it. He’s a great guy. He’s got a fun personality. He’s a fun guy to be around and already knows, the last couple of days he’s been practising with the guys, it’s been a little different. He brings a lot to the team and it’s exciting to have him back.”

Added fellow blue-liner Jacob Trouba: “He’s obviously a really big piece to our team. He’s a force, has the ability to change a game. He’s a good player, one you definitely want on your team.

“He plays everywhere, kinda does everything. Just the ability that he has to change a game if he wants to, whether it’s a hit or a rush, offensive play or whatever. He has a pretty special capability.”

Connor Hellebuyck will get his fourth consecutive start in net for the Jets. Carey Price will start in goal for Montreal.

Noteworthy: Defenceman Josh Morrissey (upper-body injury) skated in a non-contact jersey during Winnipeg’s morning skate.

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky