NEWARK, N.J. – As wingers Marcus Foligno and Kurtis Gabriel leaned over to prepare for a center-ice faceoff after the Wild had just scored its second goal to move ahead of the Devils, the two began chatting.
“He was pretty much drooling to ask me to go fight him,” Foligno said.
Although Foligno could have denied, recognizing that momentum was already on the Wild’s side and could have been swayed in the other direction by the tussle, he accepted the challenge.
And instead of the Devils getting a spark from the confrontation, it was the Wild that soared after it — pulling away for an eventual 4-2 decision Saturday at Prudential Center that ended the team’s four-game losing streak.
“It worked out for us,” Foligno said.
Before the fight, Foligno scored the Wild’s first goal on an impressive backhander. After it, he assisted on the game-winning goal to complete the second Gordie Howe hat trick of his career. His previous one came Dec. 19, 2013, against the Bruins when he was with the Sabres.
“We really haven’t had a fight to get the guys going,” Foligno said. “So I just thought it was a time where you have a taker.”
Foligno’s two points contributed to a standout showing for his line with center Joel Eriksson Ek and winger Luke Kunin, as the three combined for three goals and five points — a seamless reunion after the trio worked together before the Wild’s eight-day break last month.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Foligno said. “It’s good to be clicking, especially when you kind of have now a week-and-a-half, two-week span playing with those guys. it’s good there. We want to continue it.”
Eriksson Ek was pegged as someone who could help alleviate the sting of captain Mikko Koivu’s absence while he recovers from a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee, and so far Eriksson Ek hasn’t disappointed.
In two games since he rejoined the Wild from the minors, he’s scored twice and is a plus-3.
“That’s a lot of pressure on a guy that’s his age, his experience in this league,” Foligno said. “Mikko, you’re never going to fill that hole. But when you get called upon to fill it, you’ve got to look at it as a positive [and] not as big shoes to fill. I think he’s done a tremendous job.
“He’s a defensive talent. He’s strong. He knows how to battle. He can shoot a puck, too. As his winger, I can help him out a little. [But] he’s doing a tremendous job. I don’t think we have any worries with him playing that role.”
On the rise
Saturday was coach Bruce Boudreau’s 900th career NHL game behind the bench, becoming the ninth active coach and 35th all-time to reach that plateau.
“Somebody told me today, just today,” Boudreau said. “So I had no idea coming into the game.”
Work in progress
Mikael Granlund didn’t factor into any of the Wild’s goals after switching to center, but Boudreau was satisfied with the way Granlund played in the defensive zone.
“I thought he worked really hard below the circles in our end,” Boudreau explained. “That’s where I was worried about him. The offensive thing is still not there yet, but I thought he did a really good job in our zone.”
Winger Zach Parise was greeted with a chorus of boos when he touched the puck Saturday, a reception from Devils fans that didn’t surprise him.
Parise, who was drafted 17th overall in 2003 by New Jersey, ended his run with the organization in 2012 when he signed a 13-year, $98 million contract to join the Wild as a free agent.
“They’re loyal,” Parise said. “I kind of expected it. There’s a lot of great memories here. We loved living here. I loved playing here, so I always enjoy coming back.”