Morrissey shows why he’s an All-Star yet again as Jets beat Lightning

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored a pair of goals and Kyle Connor's marker on a two-man advantage held up as the game-winner as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2.

WINNIPEG — When he was asked to join Rick Bowness in his office for a chat on Thursday afternoon, Josh Morrissey wasn’t entirely sure what was going to be on the docket.

A meeting with the head coach can sometimes be equated with a trip to the principal’s office, but that was not the case this time.

It turns out the Winnipeg Jets bench boss had some good news to deliver and the words were music to the ears of Morrissey, whose standout season had earned him a trip to South Florida for the NHL All-Star Game next month.

“Bones just pulled me into his office. You never know where that’s going to go,” Morrissey said with a chuckle on Friday after the morning skate. “As soon as he started talking I kind of had a feeling. It was emotional. It was exciting for me.

“To be recognized and get to go to the All-Star game, that’s a pretty big deal to me. All the people that have helped you along the way in improving your game and working on your game, the ups and downs of your career, it’s just a pretty cool acknowledgement.”

Not to mention a well-deserved one for the 2013 first-rounder.

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When it comes to the emotion of the moment, you can easily understand why this hits home for Morrissey – who endured some of those ups-and-downs as he kept the failing health of his father Tom out of the headlines until he passed away from a bout with cancer in August of 2021.

“Obviously there’s ups and downs in your career. Whether that’s throughout your entire career or over the last number of years for me. I’m not too far removed from a couple tough seasons with family stuff going on,” said Morrissey. “Sometimes tough nights and not sure, at that point in time, becoming an All-Star seemed pretty far away. So it’s just rewarding to put in the work and have the people around you supporting and helping you and be rewarded with that recognition.

“Just dealing with those times, and certainly thinking about my Dad. He’s not here to see this. He always thought that was something I could become in this league and achieve. So it just meant a lot to me to know he’s watching. I’m sure he’s very proud and looking down. That’s where a lot of the emotion came from.”

Morrissey’s season has been nothing short of impressive, a rare combination of high-end production, coupled with handling the toughest defensive minutes and going head-to-head with the opposition’s most talented players on a nightly basis.

That trend continued on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, where Morrissey chipped in another three assists in a 4-2 victory.

Those eye-popping offensive totals have now reached seven goals, 39 assists and 46 points in 39 games.

He’s already hit career-bests in assists and points and there’s more than half a season left to play.

Morrissey hasn’t gone consecutive games without collecting at least a point and his defensive-zone play hasn’t suffered.

“It’s incredibly tough. It’s probably the hardest thing. You look at the Norris Trophy the last couple years, it goes out to the guy with lots of points,” said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt, who was one of four players who returned to the lineup on Friday, joining Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Cole Perfetti. “The guys that are able to do both, in my opinion, are such an incredible part of the game. It’s something that, whether you’re good at having it, taking it off guys, going the other way, or you’re solid defensively and guys aren’t getting to the net front, you look at your (Victor) Hedmans, you look at your (Cale) Makars, they’re a little bit different but both defend in their own way.

“It’s the pinnacle of defencemen. If you can do both, that’s the best of both worlds.”

Should he continue to produce anywhere close to his current pace, Morrissey will establish a franchise record for D-men – currently held by Dustin Byfuglien, who had 56 points in 78 games during the 2013-14 season.

“He’s done a lot of great things, and the great thing about Josh is that you know he’ll want more. He won’t be satisfied with this,” said Bowness. “He’s very excited and very proud of what he’s done, but at the end of it, he knows we’re going to keep pushing it here, and that’s what you want to hear from your elite players, that we’re going to keep pushing and we’re going to keep getting better.”

Bowness challenged Morrissey to be in the Top-10 of the Norris Trophy conversation this season and to this point, there’s no question that is the case.

“Probably a little better than we hoped. That’s a tribute to him,” said Bowness. “He’s far more confident now in his abilities and what he can do out there and how good he can be. He is a difference-maker out there on both sides of the puck, and I think he’s taken great pride in that.

To the surprise of no one who knows him, Morrissey was quick to give credit to his teammates and made a plea to fans to give him some company at the All-Star festivities by voting in the likes of Connor Hellebuyck, Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois or Mark Scheifele.

“Yeah, there’s a bunch of guys that certainly could be there and should be there and have had amazing seasons,” said Morrissey. “We’re off to a great start as a team. And that doesn’t happen with one or two or even just a few guys. It’s a full team thing. Definitely there’s a lot of guys having great years. I would love to see multiple Jets down there. I think there’s some guys that really deserve to be there, for sure. 

“We’ll see what happens. Hopefully the Jets fans get behind it. It’s my first game so I need a couple guys that have been there before who can show me the ropes.”

As for Friday’s matchup, it was an intense battle and looked nothing like a January contest between two teams that meet only twice a season.

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There were some heavy hits and a pair of unlikely fighting combatants in Jets centre Mark Scheifele and Lightning pivot Anthony Cirelli, who was in a feisty mood all game long.

Scheifele caught Lightning defenceman Haydn Fleury with a hard check and Cirelli responded by cross-checking Scheifele.

“I thought it was a clean hit,” said Connor, who provided the game-winner at 5:38 of the third period during a two-man advantage for the Jets. “He just kind of knocked the wind out of him and Cirelli, it looked like he saw his teammate down and started cross-checking Scheif, and he’s not going to take that. You know, someone is cross-checking him and he said, ‘okay, enough’s enough.’”

The Jets scored twice during a two-man advantage, once during a four-on-four situation and then got the insurance marker from Morgan Barron into the empty-net while shorthanded.

In his 30th start in 39 games, Connor Hellebuyck had another rock-solid evening, making 26 saves in a head-to-head battle with Andrei Vasilevskiy.

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With the win, the Jets improved to 25-13-1 on the season and moved back within a point of the Dallas Stars in the chase for top spot in the Central Division while holding a game in hand.

After dropping three consecutive games for the first time this season, the Jets have won four in a row and are back pushing to remain in the discussion among the top teams in the Western Conference.

“We knew going into it they have the experience and talent. We knew it could be a one-goal game, a 1-0 game,” said Dubois, who scored twice and is up to 19 goals for the season. “We wanted to defend well and go from there. Obviously, when you have (Hellebuyck) back there making those big saves at key moments, it gives us a lot of confidence.

“It’s a good measuring stick for us. We got a lot of those guys back. It’s not easy for those guys, missing whether it’s three months, two months or a couple of weeks. But it was a big team win for us. The penalty kill did a fantastic job in killing all those penalties. This game we could look at it, and it could be a game we remember at the end of the season for us.”

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