This first-round series between the Wild and Jets was expected to be physical, and the action so far has lived up to that billing.
But the tension on the ice escalated to a new level Tuesday, with center Eric Staal absorbing a cross-check to the neck from Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey – a sequence that went unpenalized, a tough break for the Wild that ended up as a crucial turning point in an eventual 2-0 loss that pushes the team to the edge of elimination with the Jets ahead in the best-of-seven tilt 3-1.
"It cost us the game," coach Bruce Boudreau said.
During a Wild power play in the first period, Staal was cross-checked by Morrissey in the middle of the slot. He fell to the ice and struggled to get up before heading for the bench.
There was no penalty called.
“He apologized,” Staal said of the official. “I’m not looking for an apology. I’m in the middle of the game. Why would I want an apology? It’s frustrating. It is what it is. Tough. I’m all for playing hard. I love it. It’s part of the game, but that wasn’t a good play. We have to find a way anyway. I had enough looks to get a goal and to get it tied up. It didn’t happen so it’s not a good feeling.”
What stung the Wild even more was not long after the team’s power play expired, Jets center Mark Scheifele scored. Morrissey earned a secondary assist on the play.
“Never expected that to be the only difference in the game, but you just never know,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “You can’t look back. We worked as hard as we possibly could. We weren’t rewarded tonight, but we were going to have to win a game in their building eventually anyway. So it’s going to have to be the next one.”
Here’s what else to watch for after the Wild’s Game 4 loss to the Jets.
-The Wild faces a must-win game Friday in Winnipeg, as the Jets could clinch the series on home ice.
Success on the road has been sporadic this season for the Wild; it went 18-20-3 away from home in the regular season. But the team has no choice but to improve to keep playing.
“We have a lot of faith in the group we have here, and I have a lot of confidence that we’ll come out with a really good game,” center Matt Cullen said.
-After tight officiating in Game 3, the standard eased up quite a bit in Game 4 – with the non-call on Staal the best example of how loose the enforcement got.
“That’s always a challenge in the playoffs,” Cullen said about adjusting to the changes in the calls game to game. “But again, it’s about adapting to that and figuring it out quick because you can’t afford to be a step behind on that. It’s one of those things you have to adjust to.”
-The search for a goal might have been more successful if winger Zach Parise was on the ice. But he’s out week-to-week after suffering a fractured sternum in Game 3.
“The guy’s had it tough,” Staal said. “It’s been tough. He’s been playing really well, too. it doesn’t feel good. I feel bad for him. He’s a great playoff performer. He’s a guy that’s gritty. We miss him. But at the same time, [Tyler Ennis] came in and I thought he looked pretty good and had some good movement. We’ve got other guys that need to step up. That’s just the way it works.”
Three candidates to help fill Parise’s void certainly include wingers Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. The three are pointless so far in the series.
“We got guys that are capable of stepping in and playing big games for us,” Dubnyk said. “We’re going to need that.”