After Wild are eliminated, it remains to be seen if this was Matt Cullen's last NHL game
WINNIPEG—Matt Cullen skated off the ice Friday night at Bell MTS Place.
He tapped his stick on the ice three times as teammate Marcus Foligno patted him on the shoulder.
It wasn't lost on Minnesota Wild players that their 5-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets—a team that didn't exist when Cullen first stepped foot into the NHL 20 years ago—could be the final game of the Moorhead product's remarkable NHL career.
The 41-year-old Cullen wasn't ready to make any decisions on his future immediately after the game. He said he'll take time to make a decision as he's done the past three summers.
"I don't know," Cullen said. "My only thought here the last while was getting it back home for Game 6. To be real honest, I don't have an answer for you right now. I have some family in Chicago for a hockey tournament, some in Moorhead for a hockey tournament and some in Minneapolis. So, we need some time to get away from it all. As I've said in the past, it's an important decision to me and my family, so we'll give it its rightful due."
The last three summers, Cullen went through this same process and decided to return for another year.
He signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015 and won his second Stanley Cup the following spring. He signed a one-year deal with the Penguins again in the summer of 2016 and his third Stanley Cup last spring.
Last summer, he signed with his home-state Minnesota Wild, hoping to bring the Twin Cities its first Stanley Cup. But that journey ended in a rowdy Bell MTS Place, where the Jets won their 12th-straight home game to eliminate the Wild in five games.
Cullen is already the oldest player in the NHL at 41 years, 167 days. He's one of two players from his 1996 draft class still playing. The other is Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara.
Cullen finished this season with 22 points in 79 games, his lowest point total since 2003-04, when he had 19 points in 56 games for the Florida Panthers.
Friday's game was a disaster from the start for the Wild. They gave up four goals in the opening 12 minutes.
"It's really disappointing," Cullen said. "I don't think that's indicative of the team we have. It's just a really tough night. Obviously, with our backs against the wall, we expected more and hoped for more. If we could do it all over again, we'd like to give more. But I don't think it was a lack of effort, honestly. I just think we were on our heels a little bit. They're a good team. They played well and we didn't."
At the end of the game, Cullen didn't give any obvious signs on what he may be thinking.
On his final shift, he tried to set up a teammate cutting down the slot, then casually made a line change with 2:19 to go.
After the final buzzer, he went through the handshake line, skated to the linesmen to shake their hands, then circled around the arena, jumped over a TV cord and tracked down the referees to shake their hands, too. He was the only player to do so.
As he left the ice, his teammates showed their appreciation for him with pats and hugs.
Then, Cullen gave his assessment of the game to assembled media.
"They came out and they were going pretty good and we were not," Cullen said. "We were just caught on our heels and they took advantage of that. After that, they did a great job shutting it down."
Now the question awaits: Will Cullen, after 20 years, eight NHL teams, 1,573 NHL games, 128 playoff games, 278 goals, 769 points and three Stanley Cups, shut it down?