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Dubnyk sprawls, robs Faulk for early save of the year candidate

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Saturday has been the day for pretty insane saves so far.

Marc-Andre Fleury put together a trio of them earlier in the afternoon, and Devan Dubnyk picked up that torch as the evening contests began and threw his name in the hat for the best save of this young season.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Check it out:

The save is a bright spot in a lot of ugly tonight for the Wild.

Through two periods, Minnesota really doesn’t have any business being in their game against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. Dubnyk has stopped 35 shots in the game already — including 20 alone in the first period — and the Wild have just eight going the other way, including a less than ideal three shots to Carolina’s 17 in the second frame.

The Wild own a 1-1-1 record through three games and have just seven goals through eight periods thus far.

Dubnyk and the Wild are going to have a long year if he has to face this volume of rubber. As good as he can be, the odds don’t favor him stopping everything.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Josh Morrissey suspended one game for cross-checking Eric Staal

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Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey will be forced to sit out Game 5 of Winnipeg’s first-round series on Friday after being suspended one game for a cross-check to the head of Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed down the ruling on Wednesday evening. Morrissey had a hearing on Wednesday afternoon after a dangerous cross-check hit Staal in the side of the head in the first period of Tuesday’s 2-0 win for the Jets.

Winnipeg lead’s the best-of-7 series 3-1 as the series shifts back to Winnipeg for Game 5 on Friday night at Bell MTS Place.

In the DOPS video, department head George Parros states that while sticks occasionally ride up a player’s back or shoulder while a defender is trying to box out a forward, that simply wasn’t the case for Morrissey.

“[This is] not a routine motion to box out an opponent,” Parros said in the video. “Staal is in Morrissey’s field of vision, there is no on-going battle between the players. Morrissey is in control of the play and initiates contact.

“This is a reckless strike to an opponent’s neck, with sufficient force to merit supplemental discipline.”

Morrissey has not received a fine nor a suspension in 164 NHL games.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

After Tuesday’s game, Bruce Boudreau blamed the cross-check for the Wild’s loss. On Wednesday, Boudreau stuck to his guns.

“Well, usually I’m pretty subjective in that, OK, it was a bad call, but we didn’t deserve to win anyway, or this and that,” Boudreau said. “But that had a definite, … definite impact on the whole game. if you think that it would have been 5-on-3 and he would have been out of the game, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity at the end of the first, we would have started the second on a power play, he was the one, you know, Nino [Niederreiter] had a breakaway and he made a great play defending. It had a definite, definite impact on the game. and if you can score on a 5-on-3, 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.”

Following the game, Morrissey said it was never his intention to injure Staal.

“I watched the video afterward, and we’re battling in front of the net on the penalty kill, and I’m actually looking at the puck on the wall, trying to box him out,” Morrissey said. “I got my stick up too high on him. It was a complete accident. I would never try to do that. I was glad he was able to come back and play the rest of the game.”

On Wednesday, Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he would have been surprised if Morrissey received a suspension.

“I’m not surprised there’s a hearing,” Maurice said. “You guys have been running it for a day and a half, pretty hard. There’s a penalty there and very most you might look at a fine. Based on what I’ve seen for (plays that) were either suspended or fined for a stick that didn’t hit the head, and some of these others have, there’s no intent. There’s a penalty. They missed it.

“I think they’re nervous about putting a team five-on-three because it happened to us the game before and there shouldn’t have been a penalty call and they’re aware of that. There’s no intent.

“I don’t come out and complain about the refereeing. Things get missed. We clearly felt there was intent on the (Tyler) Myers hit, there was absolutely, in my mind, intent on the hit on (Jacob) Trouba hit from (Marcus) Foligno. I know you all saw it when you weren’t looking at your phones, the (Nino) Niederreiter headbutt to (Ben) Chiarot.

Maurice backed Morrissey, suggesting there was no intent to injure on the play.

“There’s no intent on this. It got played,” Maurice said. “You’ve got a real smart coach on the other bench who has all the focus on that and not on the game now. Why wouldn’t you? Morrissey is a great defenceman for us. If you had a chance to get him out, you’d play it as hard as you could, so I don’t have any problem with that.

“There’s a penalty there and at 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, played with an edge. So he certainly was able to come back and that’s a good thing.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jets vs Wild: PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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A rivalry that needed a playoff meeting to really cement its status will finally add that chapter when the puck drops between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

The Jets and Wild have been divisional rivals for a few years now and the bad blood has grown during that time, but this will be the first time both teams meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — a chance for the hatred to grow.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The series will feature a team heavy with playoff experience and another with a bunch of excited players who’ve seen limited time in the postseason.

The Wild boast a roster with a combined 748 playoffs games, that compares to the Jets’ 265. Several of Winnipeg’s roster, including 44-goal man Patrik Laine, 32-goal rookie forward Kyle Connor and 44-game winner Connor Hellebuyck, will make their playoff debut on Friday. So while the Jets are favorites to take the series in the end, it may take a period or two for half the team to settle into a new style of hockey.

Winnipeg enters the postseason relatively healthy, although they’ll be missing Toby Enstrom (ankle) and Dmitry Kulikov (back) on the blue line to start the playoffs (with Kulikov much further away from returning than Enstrom). The addition of Paul Stastny at the trade deadline has been instrumental for the Jets, who have a centre that has figured out how to play with Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.

The Wild, meanwhile, won’t have Ryan Suter for the entirety of their playoff run after the defenseman needed surgery to fix a fractured ankle. Suter averaged 26:47 of ice time per game during the regular season, second only to Drew Doughty‘s 26:50. Simply put, it’s a big hole to fill against one of the league’s hottest offensive teams.

The Jets took the season series 3-1-0, beating the Wild twice in October in one-goal wins before pounding them 7-2 in November. In their final meeting back in January, the Wild picked up a 4-1 decision.

There are several storylines attached to this series, so let’s dive right in.

SCHEDULE

FORWARDS

Jets: Winnipeg’s bread and butter. The Jets finished second to the Tampa Bay Lightning in goals-for with 273 and boasted a lineup with a 44-goal scorer in Laine, a 31-goal scorer in Connor and 29 markers from Ehlers. Blake Wheeler tied for the NHL-lead with 68 assists in a career-year. And the Jets found secondary scoring throughout, with eight of their 12 forwards in double-digits in goal-scoring. As you’d expect, a team that put up as much offense as the Jets would also look good in the analytics department. And they do. Winnipeg finished 10th in terms of shot share at 51.5 percent and fourth in goals-for percentage at 54.6 percent.

Wild: Minnesota is no slouch in the goal-scoring department. Eric Staal turned back the clock this season and scored 42 times and Jason Zucker tallied 33 times. The Wild finished 11th in goal scoring and averaged over three goals per game, but lacked when it came to shot share, finishing 29th in the league with 47.2 percent. They were 12th in goals-for percentage, however, at 52.2 percent. Zach Parise has been a force since the beginning of March.

Advantage: Jets, but this is closer than one might think given one team hs a guy named Laine.

DEFENSE

Jets: The Jets are missing Enstrom and Kulikov to start and will depend on Joe Morrow (a trade deadline acquisition) and Ben Chiarot to keep up their solid play in relief. The top pairing of Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey will be tasked with shutting down the Wild’s offense. Despite significant injuries to the aforementioned Kulikov, Enstrom and Trouba throughout the season, the Jets still managed to fifth least goals-against in the league.

Wild: We talked about Suter in the introduction and his absence will be felt, but the pending return of Jared Spurgeon who missed 12 games to close out the regular season, is a welcome addition and should soften the blow, even if only slightly. The Wild finished 11th in fewest goals-against this season and have an offensive weapon with Matt Dumba, who recorded 50 points. That said, Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler are in tough if Spurgeon isn’t ready to go.

Advantage: Give it to the Jets as they’re not missing a top-pairing defensemen. It’s close, but Suter’s skates are impossible to fill.

GOALTENDING

Jets: The Jets signed Steve Mason in the offseason in hopes he’d be the teams No. 1. But 82 games later and it was Hellebuyck who had taken the No. 1 role and never gave it back in a Vezina-worthy campaign where he posted a .924 save percentage while setting a new franchise-high with 44 wins. Hellebuyck had six shutouts on the year and became the winningest American born goaltender and tied a league record with 30 wins at home.

Wild: Dubnyk posted 35 wins in 59 starts and put up a .918 save percentage and has 21 games of playoff experience to his name. Dubnyk had his struggles at times this seasons, but was effective nonetheless, especially at home where he only lost six games in regulation.

Side note: Hellebuyck and Dubnyk share the same trainer, Adam Francilia, at NET 360 in Kelowna, British Columbia. Both trained together in the summer and are good friends. But Dubnyk said this week that their friendship will go out the door for this series. 

Advantage: Hellebuyck, at least on paper. Dubnyk has the benefit of playoff experience while Hellebuyck has the luxury of home-ice advantage. Give it to the sophomore, but this is close.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jets: They call him a cheat code on the power play, a near-exact replica of Alex Ovechkin with all the same lethality from Ovi’s office. Laine led the league with 20 power play goals to help the Jets to the fifth-best power play in the NHL at 23.4 percent. Winnipeg’s much-improved penalty kill, meanwhile, saw them finish ninth with an 81.8 percent success rate.

Wild: The Wild do not have have a cheat code, but Staal chipped in with 11 power play goals this season. That said, Minnesota’s power play ranked 18th in terms of its success rate at 20.4 percent. On the penalty kill, the Wild only trail by half a percent, or as near as makes no difference.

Advantage: Jets. Laine tips the scales here with both penalty kills virtual identical.

X-FACTORS

Jets: Hellebuyck. He’s played the most minutes out of any other goaltender in the NHL this season yet was as steady as they come. He’s brushed aside questions of fatigue and got some rest down the stretch. Hellebuyck has been calm, cool and collected in the lead up to Wednesday’s opener. He lacks playoff experience, but if he plays the way he did this season, it shouldn’t matter.

Wild: Spurgeon’s health. He softens the blow in the wake of Suter’s season-ending injury and provides the Wild with another scoring threat on the blue line. The Jets own arguably the best offense in the league and Minnesota is going to need all the help it can get trying to contain it.

PREDICTION

Jets in six games. The loss of Suter can’t be understated, nor can the skill of the Winnipeg Jets.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ryan Suter to have surgery, done for the season

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The Minnesota Wild are likely heading to the playoffs, but their top defenseman won’t be coming along.

The Wild announced that Ryan Suter, who was injured in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, will have surgery to repair a fracture in his ankle and is done for the season.

Suter had already set a career-high with 45 assists and tied his career-high in points with 51. He was also a force on the power play with 23 power-play points.

Production aside, Suter also commanded a ton of minutes at 26:46 per game, second highest in the NHL.

The Wild are currently third in the Central Division with 96 points and would play the Winnipeg Jets in the first round if the playoffs started today.

No matter how you look at it, it’s a huge blow to the Wild’s aspirations in the playoffs, even with the pending return of Jared Spurgeon.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Zach Parise notches pair, Wild down struggling Stars

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Four points separated the Minnesota Wild and two teams chasing them in the Central Division coming into Thursday’s action.

The Wild, who had lost two straight in overtime, weren’t in must-win mode by any means on Thursday. They’re holding down the third spot in the division and have for a while now. But the two points on the line would help them create some space between themselves and the idle St. Louis Blues (three points back, in the first wildcard) and the (also idle) Colorado Avalanche (four points behind, currently outside the playoff line).

So a 5-2 win against a division rival was just the thing the Wild needed against the Dallas Stars.

The Stars have lost nine of their past 10 games and have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs at this point.

Basically, for the Stars to make it, everyone else fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference has to lose and the Stars need to win their last four games.

They’re five points back with four games to play. For Dallas, it appears to be all over except for the mathematical formality.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The Stars began the game on the right foot, with Jamie Benn scoring a quick goal 2:51 into the first period for a 1-0 lead.

Instead of building off that momentum, however, they let Minnesota score late in the period to tie it shorthanded, a goal that began a series of three unanswered from the Wild.

Dumba’s power-play goal to make it 2-1 was pretty, a clean one-timer that beat Kari Lehtonen with precision. Lehtonen struggled, allowing four goals on 21 shots.

Devin Shore brought the Stars back to 3-2 on a deft little top from the slot, the type of goal that could ignite a possible comeback.

But a late power play for Minnesota turned into a late marker for Jason Zucker, who made it 4-2 on a one-timer with 11 seconds left in the second period.

Devan Dubnyk made 29 of 31 saves for the win.

Parise scored his second of the game into an empty net to seal it for the Wild.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck