Eric Staal wasn’t interested in talking about justice Thursday. The Wild center had no opinion on whether a one-game suspension was appropriate punishment for Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey, who laid a nasty cross-check on Staal’s neck in Game 4 of the teams’ first-round playoff series.
The NHL announced the suspension Wednesday, knocking Morrissey out of Friday’s Game 5 at Bell MTS Place. With the Wild facing a 3-1 hole in the series, Staal considered it a waste of time to look back on an incident that happened in the first period of his team’s 2-0 loss Tuesday.
“It doesn’t matter,” Staal said after Thursday’s practice at Xcel Energy Center. “Regardless of what [the NHL] decided, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I’m worried about trying to help our team win the game up there and take [the series] home. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Though a single-game suspension might not sound harsh, it does create significant hardship for the Jets. They already have three defensemen out because of injuries, and Tyler Myers (lower body), Toby Enstrom (ankle) and Dmitry Kulikov (back) are not expected to be available for Game 5.
Rookie Tucker Poolman played his first postseason game Tuesday, stepping in for Myers. Another rookie, Sami Niku, might get into the lineup Friday.
The Jets’ depth has helped them withstand multiple injuries this season, and coach Paul Maurice said “it doesn’t cause a ripple” when players are sidelined. That doesn’t mean they won’t miss Morrissey.
“We’re disappointed that he’s out,” Maurice said. “Josh has played two years in the league, and he’s had two cross-checking penalties, one of them coincidental. So it’s not his game. But it’s dealt with and over.”
With the Wild on the brink of elimination, coach Bruce Boudreau altered his lines in Thursday’s practice to try and generate more offensive punch.
Charlie Coyle was elevated to the top trio alongside Staal and Jason Zucker, and Kyle Rau appears set to join the third line with Matt Cullen and Marcus Foligno. Jordan Greenway swapped places with Foligno, moving to the fourth line with Joel Eriksson Ek and Daniel Winnik.
Boudreau hopes Coyle’s promotion from the third line will give him more opportunity to use his gifts. It’s been a hard-luck season for the forward; Boudreau said the 5½ weeks Coyle sat out after breaking his right leg in October “really set him back,” and he has been shuffled among lines and roles.
Coyle has not scored a point in the playoffs, and he finished the regular season with 11 goals and 26 assists in 66 games.
“Sometimes we’ve had him on the third line, and maybe he hasn’t gotten the puck as much as he’d like to, or maybe the ice time,” Boudreau said. “Charlie is a really top-notch forward in this league, and maybe this will jump-start him.”
Rau-ring to go
At 5-8, Rau will be stepping into the land of the giants against Winnipeg’s extra-large lineup. But Boudreau liked what he saw from the Eden Prairie native in a three-game stint in January, and the coach is looking for him to give the Wild some added quickness and aggression.
Rau has skated at Bell MTS Place before; it also is home to the Manitoba Moose, whom he played against during his time with the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa.
He’s also comfortable in pressure situations, going back to his days as a teammate of Wild defenseman Nick Seeler with Eden Prairie High School and the Gophers.
“Me and Seeler were on a good team growing up, and we played in a lot of important games, and then at the U as well,” Rau said. “I know I’m not the biggest guy, but I’ll still be physical out there.”
Familiar foe to Murphy
Boudreau is planning a change with his defensemen, too, taking Carson Soucy out of the lineup and putting in Ryan Murphy. It will be the first NHL postseason game for Murphy, who noted a pattern.
“I actually made my NHL debut against the Winnipeg Jets, too, and my Minnesota debut against the Jets,” he said. “So it’s Winnipeg all the time.”
Murphy played in 21 regular-season games with the Wild, contributing two goals, three assists and 16 penalty minutes.
His ability to move the puck and contribute on offense led Boudreau to make the switch.
“We really like what Soucy’s done,” Boudreau said. “But there’s more experience in Murph, and he’s an offensive player, and we can use him on the power play.”
• The Wild recalled forward Cal O’Reilly from Iowa on Thursday. He led Iowa in points during the regular season with 15 goals and 49 assists for 64 points in 75 games. His assist and point totals were team records.