After contentious public lobbying from both head coaches, the NHL suspended Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey for Game 5 of the series against the Minnesota Wild for his cross-check to the head of center Eric Staal.
The Jets lead the Wild 3-1, with Game 5 scheduled for Friday in Winnipeg.
In a scoreless Game 4 late in the first period Tuesday, and with the Wild on a power play, Morrissey attempted to defend Staal in the slot in front of the Jets' goal. In doing so, his stick caught Staal on the neck with significant force. There was no penalty on the play, but the NHL decided that the play was worthy of a suspension after a hearing Tuesday afternoon, and it announced the decision that night.
The NHL noted in its ruling that the front of the net is a place of "constant battle," and sticks are frequently used by defensive players to establish position. To that end, they agreed with Morrissey's argument that the contact wasn't intentional, with an intent to injure. However, they said the height of his stick made this a "reckless strike to an opponent's neck, with sufficient force to merit supplemental discipline."
This is the first time Morrissey has been suspended or fined in his NHL career.
The suspension comes after comments from Wild coach Bruce Boudreau following Game 4, in which he accused the on-ice officials of intentionally ignoring Morrissey's cross-check. "My take is that the refs looked at it, and they decided not to call it because we were already on the power play. And that cost us the game," he said.
Jets coach Paul Maurice shot back Wednesday, saying that the incident was a penalty and nothing more and accusing Boudreau of lobbying the NHL.
"There's no intent on this. You've got a real smart coach on the other bench who has all the focus on that and not the game now. Why wouldn't you? Morrissey is a great defenseman for us. If you had a chance to get him out, you'd play it as hard as you could," he said.
Morrissey's loss for Game 5 could be even more significant if defenseman Tyler Myers, who missed Game 4 due to injury, can't go for the Jets.