Jets' Josh Morrissey suspended 1 game for cross-checking Eric Staal
A Winnipeg Jets defence depleted by injury will be short another regular for Friday’s potential series-clinching game against Minnesota.
Second-year defenceman Josh Morrissey was suspended one game for cross-checking Wild forward Eric Staal in the neck during Game 4.
With 3:22 left in the first period of Tuesday’s 2-0 Jets victory, Morrissey’s blatant hit sent Staal to the ice immediately. The Thunder Bay, Ont., native was slow to gain his footing and skated gingerly to the Minnesota bench.
Morrissey, who has blossomed into one of the top shutdown defenders in the game, was not assessed a penalty by referees Steve Kozari and Brian Pochmara.
“It’s warranted,” Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters in Minnesota on Wednesday when asked about a potential suspension. “I’m not here trying to be gamesmanship [or] to get the league to call extra stuff. It is what it is, though. It was a vicious cross-check to the face.”
Staal, the Wild’s most effective player until the hit on Tuesday, was still fuming after the game.
“He cross-checked me,” said the six-foot-four Staal, who topped Minnesota with 76 points during the regular season. “I’m the tallest guy on the ice and he cross-checked me in the neck.”
Had Morrissey been penalized, the Wild would have had a 5-on-3 advantage. Instead, Winnipeg’s penalty-kill came up big and Mark Scheifele’s goal with 28 seconds left in the period stood up as the winner to give the Jets a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final.
“It cost us the game,” Boudreau said at his post-game news conference. “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.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice didn’t believe Morrissey should be suspended.
“There’s a penalty there [but] no intent,” he conceded in a scrum with reporters. “And at the very most you might look at a fine, but thankfully Eric Staal played the rest of the game, played hard, played well, finished all of his checks [and] played with an edge.”
Morrissey: ‘I’m not a dirty player’
Morrissey, who logged 22 minutes 19 seconds of ice time on Tuesday, also plead not guilty while speaking with reporters.
“Complete accident … I’m not a dirty player,” said Morrissey, whose 29 shifts in Game 4 trailed only fellow defenceman Jacob Trouba (30) on the Winnipeg roster. “I was trying to box out [Staal] in front of the net. My stick ended up getting up a little bit on him.”
The loss of Morrissey will weigh on Maurice, with blue-liners Tyler Myers (lower body), Toby Enstrom (lower body) and Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) already sidelined. Enstrom and Kulikov have yet to play in the series, which shifts back to Winnipeg on Friday.
Morrissey posted a career-best 26 points and plus-15 rating in 81 games this season while averaging 20:27 of ice time.
“He’s a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman. That’s who we drafted [13th overall in 2013],” Maurice said. “He’s put it all together.”
Should Myers not play Friday and with Morrissey is suspended, Sami Niku would be the second Jets defenceman to make his playoff debut in as many games after Tucker Poolman did so on Tuesday, registering three shots on goal and a blocked shot in 8:17 of ice time.