RALEIGH — It's almost as if Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes had been spoiling for a hockey fight and finally found one.
But with a teammate?
Late in the Canes' practice Wednesday at Raleigh Center Ice, Skinner and Patrick Dwyer were competing in a "battle drill" in front of the net. The two forwards, both short and feisty, were intensely fighting for the puck when push came to shove and gloves were dropped.
Teammates quickly jumped in to defuse the escalating confrontation and no haymakers were landed in the fight. Soon after practice, the two shook hands and that was that.
"It's not something you want to do every practice but maybe every once in a while," Skinner said. "You don't look for it but sometimes it happens. I maybe could have reacted a little differently but he's a competitive guy also."
Dwyer noted the altercation underscored the fact the Hurricanes, despite being last in the NHL's Eastern Conference, still believe good things can happen this season and intend to keep fighting. After Tuesday's games, the Canes were nine points out of playoff position in the East.
"It shows no one is going through the motions and collecting paychecks," Dwyer said. "No one here is ready to count us out."
Skinner's competitiveness and willingness to mix it up in front of the net during games caused Canes coach Kirk Muller to smile and note Wednesday that Skinner "has a little Doug Gilmour in there."
Gilmour, like Muller, is a native of Kingston, Ont. He was another little guy who played big and was a physical type during a Hall of Fame career.
But Skinner, 19, has shown evidence of mounting frustration since returning from the concussion that sidelined him for 16 games. He has lost his composure and focus at times during games, has picked up a few bad penalties and seemingly has come close to getting in a few fights.
"It's a growing pain," Muller said. "He's competitive. He knows he's going to get attention and he's got to take that energy and that focus and turn that into the competitive side and (say), 'OK, if you play that way against me, I'll score or produce or make you pay.'
"He's got to keep that frustration channeled in the right direction and it's a learning experience. He's getting new guys challenging him this year because of (the) great year he had last year."
Skinner scored 31 goals as a rookie in winning the Calder Trophy last season. He has 15 goals in 41 games this season and had just one point - an assist in Monday's game in Montreal - in the Canes' recent three-game road trip.
"Obviously I haven't been playing as well as I'd like to be, but you don't want to take it out on your teammates," Skinner said. "I think I play best when I'm emotionally involved in the game but sometimes there's a line that you can't cross. That's when it kind of becomes more a negative than a positive thing.
"I have to do a better job keeping my emotions in check."
Skinner stayed on the ice after practice Wednesday, taking extra shots and perhaps cooling down. Assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour came by to tap him on the helmet, telling him to forget the fight and that those things happen in the course of a season.
Former Hurricanes Bret Hedican and Kevyn Adams once dropped the gloves went at it during a practice. Their names are on the Stanley Cup together as members of Carolina's 2006 championship team.
Skinner and Dwyer were more interested in talking about the stretch run of the season than their skirmish. The Canes topped the Canadiens 5-3 Monday to pick up four of six points on the three-game trip, and now play seven of the next eight at home.
The Canes found out they will be without injured forward Tuomo Ruutu for the next three weeks. The team recalled forward Jerome Samson from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) for the third time this season and reassigned forward Drayson Bowman to Charlotte.
There is still time to turn things around, Skinner said.
"You always have to believe," Skinner said. "You can't go into games thinking you're not playing for something.
"The gap's not that big. Obviously we know it's a steep hill. We've got to come every night ready to play and chip away at it."