After Wednesday's morning skate, Wild forward Marcus Foligno discussed his role as the team's tough guy, the one most often called upon to drop his gloves and fight an opponent should the need arise.
"It helps in incidents where there's a dirty play," he said before Wednesday night's series finale against the Vegas Golden Knights. "A fight can nullify it and [help] move on from the situation."
Fast forward about eight hours later, and Foligno's words were put into action after what the Wild considered a dirty play. Midway through the first period, Nicolas Hague, a 6-6, 230-pound defenseman for the Golden Knights, checked Kirill Kaprizov, the Wild's budding superstar, from behind on a play that would earn a boarding penalty.
The Wild, led by Foligno, immediately took offense to Vegas targeting Kaprizov. Four players from each team exchanged pushes, shoves and headlocks in a scrum. Kaprizov showed there's plenty of sandpaper to his game, engaging Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud.
After Whitecloud initially knocked Kaprizov to the ice, the Russian quickly shot a single-leg takedown that surely had Gophers and Olympic heavyweight wrestler Gable Steveson smiling with approval. Kaprizov wrestled Whitecloud to the ice and administered a face-washing with his glove and forearm that left the former Bemidji State player's nose bloodied.
The melee resulted in 10 penalty minutes and a power play for the Wild. It also reinforced Kaprizov's status with his teammates.
"He gets ticked off, and it's awesome to see that coming from a superstar. He elevates everyone," said Foligno, who played his 600th NHL game Wednesday. "… Whenever he gets hit, we don't really worry because he's such a big guy already that he can take it and he can give it. We've just got to make sure he's not taking it every game."
To that end, Foligno had unfinished business with Hague. The two would fight at the 16:55 mark of the first, with Foligno landing a couple of punches early.
For the Golden Knights, who would win the game 3-2 in overtime, the initial hit on Kaprizov and the response of Hague fighting Foligno showed that they wouldn't settle for losing five of seven matchups with the Wild this season, especially considering Minnesota is a possible playoff opponent.
"I don't think anyone wants to take a step back from anybody and send the wrong message," Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. "That was just the case in the first. I liked how we stuck together. Hague did a great job — that's a big, tough guy he's picking on there."
For the Wild, the response from both Kaprizov and his teammates was just what coach Dean Evason wanted.
"People get surprised when it's the goal-scorer or skilled guy that sticks his nose in there. Why wouldn't he?" Evason said. "Everyone should do it. If you don't score goals, you stick your nose in there and stick up for a teammate. If you do, you should do the exact same thing.
"He stands up for himself. He stands up for his teammates," Evason added. "There was a race to get to their guy that hit him from our group. There's no question that we're a team. We stick together."
That attitude, Foligno believes, will be needed in the playoffs. The Wild has four regular-season games remaining, starting with the Friday-Saturday home series against Anaheim, and sits in third place in the West Division. Minnesota's first-round opponent likely will be either Colorado or Vegas, depending on which team wins the division.
"That's a great hockey team over there. They're in first for a reason," Foligno said of the Golden Knights. "But we're a team that stuck together all year and then have that mentality all year. It's just good to see us keep battling. And that's what it's gonna take to win a series in the playoffs. Absolutely, we've love to see these guys again."