With his team on a four-game winless streak, and about to face the NHL’s hottest team, Wild coach Dean Evason called his alternate captains in for a talk. The message was simple: Gimme a hand here.
The Wild had just finished a winless road trip, then come out flat — again — in a 5-3 loss at home to the New Jersey Devils last Thursday. And now the New York Rangers, winners of six straight and leading the Metropolitan Division with an 8-2-0 record, were coming to town.
And then it got worse when the Rangers darted to a 3-0, first-period lead on them Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. Evason liked a lot of what he saw from his team, but he couldn’t pretend the Wild weren’t in a world of hurt. So he changed it up a little between periods.
Enter Marcus Foligno.
“Coaches can come in and kick the garbage can only so many times and they can be like, ‘Well, he kicked the garbage can again. Who cares?’ ” Evason explained. “When a player, when a peer stands up or says something, it has a lot of weight throughout the team.”
Given the room, Foligno had a simple message.
“I just said it’s fitting that we had to dig a deeper hole to get out of it; that was basically what I said,” Foligno said Sunday. “I said. ‘This is the stuff that makes teams come together, and you can look at it and say, “Wow, we’re deeper than we’ve been before,” but eventually you need to have to get out of the hole.”
“ ‘If you’re going to complain, go out on your own and take long shifts, look for breakaways and stuff like that, it’s gonna be 8-nothing.’ But we didn’t do that, and it was a good character win.”
The Wild rallied with some of their best hockey of the season, scoring four straight goals before beating the Rangers, 5-4, in a shootout for its first two points since they beat Edmonton, 7-4, on Oct. 24. As a result, they left Monday for a three-game road trip through New York that starts Tuesday with a 6:30 p.m. puck drop against the Islanders, in a much better place.
“Hopefully,” Evason said, “we can use that as a bar for how we want to continue to play all year.”
Evason called Foligno, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek — given an ‘A’ with captain Jared Spurgeon sidelined by injury — together before the Rangers game. “They’re leaders in that they work their butts off every single day,” the head coach said, “but we needed more than just (an example). We needed somebody to say something.”
Foligno has never had an issue with piping up, likely, he said, because his father, Mike, was a longtime NHL player and coach. Coaches wanted Kaprizov and Eriksson Ek, younger players whose first language was not English, to follow that lead a little more.
“We didn’t give Kirill, or Ekky at this point, the ‘A’ because they’re good players or good people or nice guys,” Evason said. “We gave them because they’re leaders on our hockey club. Take a step in the leadership department. We challenged Moose, as well, and they all did.”
The Wild scored twice in the second period and just generally took complete control of the game, dominating zone time and outsourcing the Rangers 4-1 the rest of the way before Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 3 of 4 shots and Mats Zuccarello and Matt Boldy scored in the shootout.
It was the Wild’s best performance since they dominated the Canadiens in a 5-2 victory Oct. 17 in Montreal.
“I think we were all determined and dedicated, and I think we’ve been talking a lot all games,” Eriksson Ek said. “But we’ve got to walk like we talk it, too. It doesn’t matter how much you say if you don’t do it when you get out there. But (Saturday), we played really hard and played for each other, did the right things.”
Foligno declined to take credit for turning the tide.
“No ‘Braveheart’ or anything like that,” he said. “I’ll save that for the playoffs.”