As soon as Marcus Foligno came off the ice Monday, Canadian reporters surrounded the Wild forward. They wanted to ask the Wild winger about his collision with Winnipeg defenseman Tyler Myers in Sunday’s Game 3, when Myers went down hard in front of the Jets bench and had to be helped off the ice.
Some of them suspected nefarious intent, believing Foligno punched Myers’ knee as the two players fell. Jets coach Paul Maurice was irked, too, disagreeing with the NHL’s decision not to discipline Foligno. But after Monday’s practice at Xcel Energy Center, Foligno insisted the tangle was a “freak accident” and wished his former Buffalo Sabres teammate a quick recovery.
Myers did not participate in the Jets’ optional practice Monday, and Maurice declined to give an update on his condition.
“No, I did not punch his knee,” Foligno said. “I looked at [the video] a hundred times, too, and my stick is in my hand. I think I’m trying to grab whatever I can before going down.
“Honestly, I’m not trying to hurt someone out there, especially a good friend like Myers. You just hope it’s nothing too serious.”
The injury happened when Foligno came in to block Myers’ shot attempt from the right point during the second period of the Wild’s 6-2 victory. Foligno fell into Myers, making contact from behind with the defenseman’s lower body as his right foot hit the boards. Video of the incident sparked much discussion on social and traditional media.
“He fell,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Anybody that thinks anything different, that there was something to it, is trying to create something that’s not there.”
Losing Myers would deal a significant hit to the Jets. The 6-8 defenseman has two goals and an assist this series, and Winnipeg already is without injured blue liners Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov. If Myers cannot play in Tuesday’s Game 4, he would be replaced by rookie Tucker Poolman, who grew up in East Grand Forks, Minn., and played at North Dakota.
Asked if he “needed to be better” in Game 3, Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck paused for a moment. “I don’t really like that question,” he said. “We’re going to lose one once in a while. It’s how we respond to the next one.”
The question on many minds is how Hellebuyck will bounce back after absorbing his first NHL playoff loss — and a bad one at that. Maurice pulled the Jets starter after two periods, when Hellebuyck allowed six goals on 22 shots. That dropped his series save percentage to .847 and his goals-against average to 3.40, well off the regular-season numbers that made him one of the NHL’s best.
“Any night that he hasn’t had a win or didn’t like his result, he’s come back very, very strong,” Maurice said. “That’s what our expectation is.”
Hellebuyck echoed that sentiment Monday, adding that he didn’t have a problem with being pulled in Game 3.
“I’m not going to let a goal here or there deter what I expect out of myself every single day,” he said. “I put these kinds of games behind me no matter when they happen. I’m still feeling good on the ice.”
Foligno waited 424 NHL games to get his first taste of the playoffs. He might not have to wait as long as he expected for the next milestone in his life, the birth of his first child.
Foligno’s wife, Natascia, is due to give birth April 28. The doctor has said the baby might arrive earlier, adding to the soaring emotions he’s already experiencing.
“You’ve got to focus on playoffs, then you’ve got to focus on becoming a dad soon,” Foligno said. “I don’t know which is scarier. I’m looking forward to getting the call, whenever it is, and I’m hoping we’re in Minnesota when it happens.”
After leading the Wild with 185 hits in the regular season, Foligno has reprised that role in the playoffs, with a team-high 12 hits in three games. Boudreau praised him for making the most of his limited minutes
“He had two or three hits right off the bat [in Game 3], and that got the crowd into it,” Boudreau said. “Whether it’s 10 or 12 minutes [per game], he gets out there, he plays really hard, and he’s been very effective.”