Detroit Red Wings’ Anthony Mantha challenged to fight, gains respect

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Anthony Mantha didn’t have much choice.

The Detroit Red Wings right wing wasn’t eager to fight, considering he lost a month of action to a broken hand when he duked it out with Colorado’s Patrik Nemeth in early December.

But when Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds challenged his manhood on Sunday, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Mantha wasn’t going to back down.

“He goes, ‘I hope you’re going to be a man.’ That’s pretty much it,” Mantha said after the Wings lost, 3-1, to the Flyers. “I said, ‘Am I going to gain your respect?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.'”

Simmonds’ challenge came before Karen Newman belted out the national anthem. The gloves were dropped 57 seconds into the contest with Mantha grateful he came out unscathed, noting Simmonds was a ‘tough customer.’

“The hand did come in mind,” Mantha said. “I guess the doctor did a great job.”

Mantha knew before he laced up his skates that he needed to bare his knuckles at some point. Once he shoved the Flyers’ top offensive player, Claude Giroux, into the boards on Saturday in Philadelphia, he was sure there would be retribution. Considering the teams played again less than 30 hours later, this time at Little Caesars Arena, an early fight was a foregone conclusion.

“It was either that or they’re all over me the whole game,” he said.

Coach Jeff Blashill would have advised Mantha to stay away from a confrontation, though it probably would have fallen on deaf ears.

“He knows how to handle himself,” Blashill said.

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Some good came out the early altercation on Sunday. Mantha was a constant presence in the offensive end after serving his fighting major, shooting a game-high seven shots.

“I thought he was the best player on the ice for most of the game,” Blashill said. “When he skates, he’s really good. When he kind of drifts, he’s still able to make a lot of stick on puck plays but it’s hard for his teammates to know what he’s doing.”

Mantha ended a nine-game goal drought in Philadelphia, scoring two third-period goals, including the game-tying one with 7 seconds left in regulation to complete a four-goal comeback. The Wings then lost in overtime, 6-5.

Philadelphia rookie goaltender Carter Hart was a lot stingier in the rematch.

“We created a lot of O-zone grind, a lot of chances,” Mantha said. “We played a decent game and they weren’t going in.”

For the second straight game, the Wings used both of their goaltenders. Jimmy Howard was pulled on Saturday early in the third period after giving up five goals. Jonathan Bernier started on Sunday but was forced to leave after the first period with what Blashill described as a neck injury.

“We anticipate he’ll be fine,” Blashill said. “We don’t think it’s a concussion.”

Howard gave up the go-ahead goal early in the third period on Ivan Provorov’s shot from the point and the Flyers tacked on an empty-netter.

“It’s never easy,” he said. “When you’re coming in cold, you’re just hoping to get some action right away.”

It’s not going to be an easy week for Howard, Gustav Nyquist – who missed the game with an illness – and other players who have heard their names in trade rumors. The trade deadline is a week away.

“The last couple of years, we were sellers,” Blashill said. “When you’re a seller, it’s a little unnerving at times. It requires some conversations to make sure the guys keep things in the right frame of mind.”

Mantha isn’t one of the players the Wings are looking to move. He’d like to concentrate the remainder of the season on racking up points instead of fighting majors.

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