Morrissey, Jets get away with one

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ST. PAUL, MINN. — Winnipeggers like to believe everyone is out to get us: the federal government won’t give us our fair share; Toronto won’t give us respect; Bruce Springsteen won’t play for us.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/04/2018 (1696 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ST. PAUL, MINN. — Winnipeggers like to believe everyone is out to get us: the federal government won’t give us our fair share; Toronto won’t give us respect; Bruce Springsteen won’t play for us.

And the referees are always, always, always out to get our sports teams.

Well, whenever this Winnipeg Jets season ends and the final history is written, let the record show that in an absolutely critical Game 4 of their opening-round series against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night, the biggest call of the game — and probably the season to this point — was the one the referees didn’t make on Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey.

https://youtu.be/6i1P4p5dcw8

Hug a referee today, Winnipeg. You owe them one.

Now, let’s be clear: a lot of things went right for the Jets in a 2-0 win that gives Winnipeg a 3-1 stranglehold on this best-of-seven series heading back to Winnipeg for Game 5.

First, there was the news prior to the game that Wild forward Zach Parise — who had goals in each of the first three games — is gone for the rest of this series with a fractured sternum sustained in Game 3 when he was sandwiched by Ben Chiarot and Mark Scheifele.

Second, there was the Vezina-worthy performance by Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck, who the league announced just prior to the game is one of three finalists for this season’s top goaltender award. Hellebuyck showed why, making 30 saves to record the shutout, at least a half-dozen of which were the point-blank, I-can’t-believe-he-stopped-that variety.

But at least as critical to the win was the five-minute major — and probably even a game misconduct — the officials didn’t give to Morrissey late in the first period when the young Winnipeg defenceman nearly decapitated the Wild’s Eric Staal with a savage cross-check to the side of the head.

(Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS) The Winnipeg Jets' Josh Morrissey and a falled Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild in the first period during Game 4 of the first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series on Tuesday, in St. Paul, Minn. The Jets won, 2-0, for a 3-1 series lead.

With the Wild already on a power-play late in the first period, Morrissey lost his mind — there’s no other credible explanation — took a stride toward Staal, who didn’t even have the puck, and two-handed him in the jaw.

Staal looked for a moment like a life-size version of his own bobblehead, his head snapping sideways at a sickening angle from the force of the impact before he crumpled to the ice and remained there as play continued.

Morrissey was as amazed as anyone that no penalty had been called. He immediately turned his palm upward in that universal gesture of, ‘Listen, I know that looked bad but I’ve got (not really) an explanation…’

But after doing a double-take — he actually did that, as though he couldn’t believe his eyes — and realizing that no one was calling a penalty, Morrissey continued playing even as Staal didn’t.

Staal, who led Minnesota in scoring this season and had been the Wild’s best player to that point in the game, later returned, but was ineffective the rest of the night.

And Morrissey? He was superb the rest of the game, picking up an assist a couple minutes later on a Mark Scheifele goal in the final minute of the first period that stood up as the game-winner and then later breaking up a breakaway that looked like it could be the equalizer.

Put it all together and a Jets defenceman who probably shouldn’t have even still been in the game ended up being a critical contributor to a win that now has the Jets just one victory away from ending this series and advancing to the next round.

Now, let’s be crystal clear — there was no question Morrissey’s cross-check should have been a major penalty. Morrissey’s explanation to reporters after the game that it was all “a complete accident,” that his stick simply got too high, doesn’t change that fact. Even Jets head coach Paul Maurice agreed after the game “it was a missed call.”

(Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS) Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, top, makes a point-blank save in the second period in front of the Minnesota Wild's Jonas Brodin during Game 4, Tuesday.

And if the standard for assessing game misconducts is the referee’s judgment that a player’s action was attended by an attempt to injure, well, cross-checking your opponent so hard that it snaps his head sideways 90 degrees would seem to qualify, even if your story later is that you actually intended to, what, savagely cross-check him lower?

Don’t kid yourself — this thing isn’t over and the NHL is going to try, belatedly, to make this right for the Wild. The league’s officials blew a very big call in a very big game and I’d be shocked if the NHL doesn’t announce this week that Morrissey is going to be suspended for at least one game and maybe more.

That will sting: with Tyler Myers, Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov already out with injuries, the Jets cannot afford to lose another defenceman to a suspension — and especially not a guy like Morrissey, who eats huge minutes on the club’s top pairing.

But as much as this suspension will hurt, it won’t hurt nearly as much as it would have had the referees given the Wild a five-minute power play, with close to two minutes of that a two-man advantage, and left the Jets playing with just five defenceman for the rest of the night.

We’ll never know how this game might have turned out. Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau felt Morrissey should have been thrown out of the game and the non-call was decisive. “It cost us the game,” he told reporters after the game.

But Boudreau has no idea if that’s true, any more than you and I do.

Here’s another scenario: Hellebuyck really was simply unbeatable on this night and the final result would have been the same.

The Winnipeg netminder has been the Jets’ most valuable player all season and he’s never been better than in what was the most important game of the year. The fact Hellebuyck pulled off a 30-save shutout just two nights after he gave up six goals and was pulled against this same Minnesota team just makes it all the more amazing.

So yeah, Hellebuyck — all night long, all season long.

But just know this: in the biggest game of the season, the biggest call was the one the refs didn’t make and it went in Winnipeg’s favour. Big time.

That will be worth remembering the next time the refs screw the Jets. It might not take long — Game 5 goes Friday night in Winnipeg.

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

History

Updated on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 10:54 PM CDT: Adds photo

Updated on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 7:50 AM CDT: Video added.

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