One of the Jets’ most effective defensemen won’t be on the ice for Game 5 Friday in Winnipeg when the team tries to clinch its first-round, best-of-seven series against the Wild.
Josh Morrissey received a one-game suspension for his cross-check on center Eric Staal during the Jets’ 2-0 victory Tuesday night in Game 4 at Xcel Energy Center.
Morrissey had a hearing Wednesday with the NHL Department of Player Safety, and it called the play “a reckless strike to an opponent’s neck with sufficient force to merit supplemental discipline” in an explanation video.
While the league said it acknowledged Morrissey’s argument that it wasn’t an intentional cross-check to harm or injure, it determined his cross-check wasn’t a routine motion to box out an opponent.
“It’s warranted,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of the hearing, explaining he thought Tuesday night the play was worthy of a suspension. “I’m not up here trying to be gamesmanship to get the league to call extra stuff. It is what it is, though. It was a vicious cross-check to the face.”
The incident happened late in the first period as Staal was posted up in the slot on a power play. After the hit he fell to the ice and struggled to get to his feet before skating gingerly to the bench.
There was no penalty.
“It had a definite, definite impact on the game,” said Boudreau, mentioning he hadn’t heard from the NHL about the non-call. “If you can score on a five-on-three, then all of a sudden you’re playing with the lead. You’re not chasing the game. It’s different tactics by them and everything else. So from that standpoint, it impacted the game greatly.”
The Jets killed off the remaining time the Wild had with the man advantage and scored the game-winning goal with 28 seconds left in the first — a Mark Scheifele tally that Morrissey helped set up.
“They wouldn’t have had the opportunity at the end of the first,” Boudreau said. “We would have started the second on a power play. Nino [Niederreiter] had a breakaway, and [Morrissey] made a great play defending.”
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said after Game 4: “There’s a penalty there, and at very most you might look at a fine.”
Morrissey hadn’t been fined or suspended before in his career.
His absence further subtracts from an already depleted Jets blue line. Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) and Toby Enstrom (lower body) have yet to play in the series, and Tyler Myers missed Game 4 after he suffered a lower-body injury in Game 3.
The Wild knew it would be without Zach Parise for Game 4 on Monday; that’s when the winger underwent a CAT scan that revealed he suffered a fractured sternum after getting hit by Scheifele and defenseman Ben Chiarot late in Game 3.
“Obviously, you feel for him,” center Matt Cullen said. “He’s been through quite a bit, and he’s the heart and soul of our team. So first and foremost, you hurt for him and he’s playing great. It’s just disappointing. From a team standpoint, it’s part of the ups and downs you face in the playoffs. We’ve faced quite a bit, and we still feel like we have enough here to win.”
Overall, the team has lost 160 man games to injury.
More changes possible
Winger Tyler Ennis filled in for Parise in Game 4, but the team could sub in someone else for Game 5.
“I don’t know what the lineup is going to entail,” Boudreau said. “It’s a different building. We haven’t decided whether we’re making changes or not.”
Ennis played 7 minutes, 14 seconds in Game 3, the lowest ice time among players for both teams; he had one shot on goal.
Kyle Rau, who was among the call-ups from the American Hockey League, could be a candidate after a making an impression during a brief stint with the Wild in the regular season.
“He’s a fast skater,” Boudreau said. “Even though he’s small, he’s a great competitor.”