Towards the latter stages of the second period in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Sabres, Alex Nylander received a pass at the Buffalo blue line and fed it to Jonathan Toews, who nearly connected with Brandon Saad that would've put the Blackhawks up 3-0. Then the whistle blew.
Penalty? Injured player?
A scrap ensued in the neutral zone and Chicago's eyes lit up once it became clear which player got involved: Erik Gustafsson, who had zero career NHL fights before dropping the gloves with Sabres forward Jimmy Vesey. So what the heck happened?
"I don't know, I felt like he was coming late," Gustafsson said. "Got his hands up in my face when he hit me and kind of crosschecked him after and he slashed me. I didn't say anything, I was just looking at him, he looked at me and we dropped 'em."
It's easy to figure out what Vesey was trying to accomplish. The Blackhawks had just scored to make it 2-0 and he's looking to change the momentum of the game.
The surprising part was the fact Gustafsson engaged, which he normally doesn't do unless it's warranted. It threw his teammates and everyone on the bench off guard because he's not known to be a physical player.
As soon as the fight began, the TV cameras panned to Saad on the ice and the confused look on his face told the story.
"I haven't talked to him about it yet," a laughing Gustafsson said. "I have to go ask him why he looked so surprised. It was kind of funny, I got to show him that too."
Said head coach Jeremy Colliton: "I didn't see what happened before. I just saw he was fighting and I just, you know ... wondered what could have happened. But, hey, you've got to stick up for yourself."
The only other fights Gustafsson has had in his professional career came with the Rockford IceHogs during the 2016-17 season. He dropped the gloves twice, and both came against Manitoba Moose forward J.C. Lipon, who's profile on hockeyfights.com is significantly longer than Gustafsson's. Each of those scraps started because Gustafsson was unhappy with a hit that was laid on him.
Gustafsson was credited with the takedown in both of those fights against Lipon, but he didn't have as much luck against Vesey.
"Your adrenaline is going up pretty quick," Gustafsson said. "I wanted to keep going there but he dragged me down hard. But it was good to have the first one."
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