ST. PAUL, MN – The depth of the Winnipeg Jets’ blue line is about to get tested.
Next to Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers has been the Jets’ most impactful defenceman in this series, and he walked out of Xcel Energy Center with a slight limp Sunday night after the Minnesota Wild trounced their visitors 6-2.
Injury to insult.
Jets coach Paul Maurice only said he “didn’t love” the play that knocked his 18-minute guy out of Game 3 and expected the league to look at it because it looks at everything.
Myers’ undisclosed lower-body injury was sustained during an sloppy-looking collision. Checking winger Marcus Foligno was rushing to Myers’ point when he stumbles and his fist hits the back of Myers’ knee, causing the lanky defender to crumple awkwardly feet-first into the boards.
Foligno said Monday that he’s watched the collision 100 times and maintained no ill intent.
“I’m going down for a blocked shot, and I think he’s going by me and he pulls up at the last second. I stumble, and I mean I guess I catch him on the way down. It was kind of a freak accident,” said Foligno, who leads all Wild skaters in hits.
“I played with him in Buffalo. I mean, we’re not friends over the playoffs, but we are friends off the ice, and it’s something I wouldn’t do to a friend, so it’s all good.”
It’s less than good for Winnipeg, which is already dealing with injuries to regular blueliners Dmitry Kulikov and Toby Enstrom. Neither skated Monday, and you’d have a better chance of getting the snow to melt in St. Paul than a detailed health report from the Jets.
Tucker Poolman, 24, is the likely next man up. He’s played all of 24 career NHL games, all in relief.
“He’s been great. Big guy, skates well, moves the puck well,” says Ben Chiarot, Myers’ partner. “He’s a strong, strong kid. He’s been good for us all year. I know he’s played well with the [AHL] Moose and with us, so he should be confident coming in here.”
Poolman was the first Jets skater on the ice for Monday’s optional practice and the last one off.
“The intensity’s grown each game,” he said, considering his potential playoff debut. “It’s just something I gotta be ready for. The possibility of it is exciting.”
Maurice declined any comment on the severity of Myers’ injury, which has some diehard Jets fans screaming foul. (Jets centre Adam Lowry dismissed it as an “awkward” play with no intent to injure, and we tend to agree.)
“He fell. Anybody that thinks anything different, that there was something to it, is trying to create something that’s not there,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “[Foligno] went to block a shot and he fell. That was it.”
Foligno was happy to discuss the incident at length Monday.
“Honestly, I did not punch his knee,” he said. “My stick’s in my hand and I think I’m trying to grab whatever I can before going down. No, there was no punching motion. I’m sure a lot of Winnipeg fans are saying that, but, no, I’m not trying to hurt someone out there, especially a good friend like Myers.
“You never want to see a tweaked ankle, whatever it is, a knee, lower body in that sense. We’ve had that on our side, too, with [Ryan] Suter’s injury going into the boards. You just hope it’s nothing serious.”
Myers had been excellent through two-and-a-half games, scoring twice on his stingy summer training pal, Devan Dubnyk, contributing an assist and presenting a confident power-play option.
“You look at the way he’s been playing, he’s been one of their best D-men if not their best D-man, so that hurts,” Dubnyk said.
“I certainly don’t have any sympathy for them, other than you never want to see somebody you know well to get hurt. We certainly don’t have any sympathy for them in this room. We’re missing a relatively important defenceman ourselves, so it’s just the way things go.”
Curiously, few Jets say they’ve even watched the replay, and Chiarot shakes off any notion of revenge.
“[Foligno] is a physical player. I’ve never known him to be dirty. He plays the game hard, plays the game pretty honest. We’ll keep moving forward. We’re not worried about any of that,” Chiarot says.
“There’s bigger battles to fight than chasing one guy around.”