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Norris candidate Morrissey salvages Jets’ win after stunning Hurricanes rally

WINNIPEG – Rick Bowness was about to depart from the podium, figuring his regular postgame question and answer session had come to its just conclusion.

The head coach of the Winnipeg Jets had been subjected to an entertaining, if unlikely finish as his team built a 3-0 advantage, only to see the Carolina Hurricanes score not once, not twice, but three times with an extra attacker after coach Rod Brind’Amour first pulled his goalie with more than five minutes remaining in regulation.

This was not an epic collapse in the standard use of the word, as the Hurricanes did an excellent job of both getting traffic in front and finding lanes to get shots through – with two of those appearing to change direction on the way to the goal before finding the back of the net.

Bowness had already spoken about the ebbs and flows of the game and handed out praise where necessary, but just as he took his first steps toward his coach’s office, a reporter who had waited patiently wanted to know about the brilliant start for Josh Morrissey – who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, in what became a 4-3 victory on Monday night.

That’s when Bowness recalled a conversation he had with the Jets defenceman and alternate captain during the offseason.

It’s a chat Bowness had referenced previously, noting he told Morrissey that in his previous stop with the Dallas Stars that he was a guy they paid special attention to because he was the Jets’ best defenceman.

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But this time, he added a valuable nugget about that chat he had not shared publicly.

It was a combination of a major vote of confidence and a challenge of sorts to an individual he was certainly going to lean on if the Jets were going to get more offence from the defence corps that would surely be led by Morrissey once again.

“We talked about that, and that’s what I said, ‘We need from you. It’s there. And we’re going to get it out from you,’” said Bowness. “’You’ve got the green light, I want you a lot more involved with the offence. I want you skating.’

“At the end of the season, and this is what I told him, when there’s a discussion of who the top 10 D are for the Norris Trophy voting, I want to see his name in there. And he’s taken great pride in that.”

Those were lofty expectations for sure, but through 17 games, Morrissey is clearly in the conversation for the Norris Trophy, playing the best hockey of his career.

Not only is Morrissey leading the Jets defence, he’s leading the team in scoring with three goals and 18 points in 17 games.

That leaves him tied for sixth in the NHL among blue-liners and while the trophy handed out to the top defenceman requires more than production, Morrissey is taken care of his responsibilities away from the puck as well.

Monday’s highlight reel saw Morrissey show great instincts to jump in the rush and take a pass from Blake Wheeler before beating Pyotr Kochetkov with a shot through the five-hole to extend the Jets lead to 3-0.

Then, after the remarkable rally by the Hurricanes sent the game to three-on-three action in the fourth period, there was Morrissey making a smart read to jump into open ice in the neutral zone before burying his shot on a breakaway to ensure the Jets would improve to 11-5-1 as they head out for a three-game road trip that begins Wednesday against the Minnesota Wild.

“I saw him leave the zone. But you could see that we were going to get control of the puck. That’s what you have to do in overtime, you have to take some gambles,” Bowness said in his postgame assessment. “He just read the play. That’s hockey IQ, man. Just a great shot.”

A great shot indeed, one that came at 2:10 of overtime.

Morrissey had been asked about how he ended up being on the receiving end of the stretch pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois that led to the play that brought the game to an end.

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“I felt we were able to create a turnover,” Morrissey said. “We got control of the puck. I kind of just took off when one of their guys changed. Sometimes that’s how it works. In overtime, if you can turn the puck over quick and transition the other way, you can create an odd man rush. Dubie made a great heads-up pass and from there, I just tried to go in and score a goal.

“(Kochetkov) comes out pretty far. Nothing really on the scouting report but I just saw a hole and tried to shoot it. Wasn’t going to get too fancy. Just tried to surprise him. Obviously, super happy it went in.”

That overtime goal from Morrissey came on a night the Jets also got an important goal from the fourth line, which was the first in the NHL from recent call-up Mikey Eyssimont.

Jets centre David Gustafsson had stolen the puck in the defensive zone from Hurricanes sniper Andrei Svechnikov, then sprinted out of the zone and took a pass from Jansen Harkins to get a breakaway of his own.

Eyssimont got up the ice quickly and was in perfect position to convert the rebound in what was his fifth NHL game.

“I’ve visualized it for my whole life, so to finally get it, you never know how it’s going to happen. You’ve just got to be opportunistic,” said Eyssimont. “It was a one-knee drop on the forehand. I had quite a bit of net to shoot at and there were some bodies flying around in front of the net. Honestly, I have to rewatch it. I haven’t seen it yet (on replay). Just from what I remember, I just kind of had to tap it in.

“I don’t even remember the sound of it. It felt so good. To have the boys come over and celebrate with (me) and have all of the guys congratulating me, that means the most. Yeah. It’s the best day of my life, for sure.”

While Eyssimont was sharing his jubilant feeling in a scrum with reporters, Jets backup goalie David Rittich was expressing frustration after going through a sequence where it looked like he might actually earn a shutout in what was his fourth start of the season to seeing the three late goals require Morrissey to be the OT hero.

Through no fault of his own, the game got more stressful for Rittich than it needed to, but he took another step to showing he can be leaned on for more than just the tail end of the multiple back-to-backs on the Jets schedule coming up next month.

After the morning skate, Bowness shared with reporters that he planned to get Rittich some additional work in the upcoming stretch of games as things get busier for the Jets.

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With Connor Hellebuyck already at 13 starts in 17 games and playing at a Vezina Trophy level, the Jets need to keep their starter fresh and they also want to help keep Rittich sharp.

“We want to try to get him a game a week, at the max 10 days, and he’s played well,” Bowness told reporters. “He deserves a home start. With (games) every second day now, it’s important that he plays. It’s not fair to him to let him sit for two or three weeks and ‘Now you’re playing.’ That’s not fair to him and it’s not fair to the team.”

Monday was another important step in that process, even if things got a little more tense in the latter stages of the game as the Hurricanes nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

“It’s not for the media what went through my mind. A lot of swear words,” said Rittich, who was clearly still processing what had transpired. “First one screen, second one tipped, third one tipped. I will look at the video and work on (it at) practice. But we stick with that and get an important two points.”

Rittich was among the players who spoke enthusiastically about the way the Jets defended during the first 55 minutes of the game, limiting the Grade A scoring chances against a high-shot-volume team that remains one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

“Did you watch the game? Did you see how those guys worked hard for me? It’s pretty easy to work hard and do your job. Pretty easy to stick with the game and help them out,” said Rittich. “We were really good. We didn’t give them much and I think we did a pretty good job. I mean, that’s what we are talking about since camp, to be resilient, to work hard, to play 60 minutes, do the right things at the right time, which we’re doing. It’s really good. We just have to keep it going.”

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Norris candidate Morrissey salvages Jets’ win after stunning Hurricanes rally Source link Norris candidate Morrissey salvages Jets’ win after stunning Hurricanes rally

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