ANAHEIM, Calif. — A little over a month ago, Nick Foligno’s game seemed like it was reaching the point it’s at right now.
He came out of the NHL’s COVID hiatus rejuvenated and scored his first goal of the season against Buffalo on New Year’s Day. His next seven games, he posted a pair of assists, and was a plus-2 in 11:12 of average ice time.
He was finding his footing after spending much of the first half getting acclimated to a new team and searching for a role that suited him.
Then he decided to fight Anaheim Ducks winger Sam Carrick on Jan. 24. Carrick dropped Foligno with a right hand, and even though he tried to brush it off, the effects lingered. Foligno was out for two weeks with what the Bruins called an upper-body injury, another setback in a stop-and-start season.
Foligno has missed 17 games this season. In October, an upper-body injury landed him on injured reserve for eight. He missed five more in January with a lower-body injury, then the first fight with Carrick sidelined him for four. That made consistency elusive.
When Foligno crossed paths with Carrick on Tuesday at Honda Center, he jumped at the chance to drop the gloves again, locking horns after a face-off barely two minutes into the game.
“Obviously, a little history between him and I,” he said.
While the Bruins lost, 4-3, Foligno won the fight, and was a catalyst on the fourth line that kept the Bruins in striking distance until the last minute.
The fight set the tone early. Not long after that, he scored his second goal of the season, tying the game on a between-the-legs deflection. In the second period, his work to recover a puck behind the net, and his presence in front of it helped Brandon Carlo get on the board.
In 10:58 on ice, he showed the range he can bring to a team coming into form as the playoffs approach.
“That’s the way I play,” Foligno said. “That’s the kind of game I need to play obviously for this club. I’m always going to try and be physical; some nights, it works a little bit better than others. But that’s something I can bring and will continue to bring, especially the latter half of the year and in the playoffs.
“That to me is crucial [for] playoff hockey, so I’m liking that my game’s gearing up towards this time of year. You obviously want to just help and contribute any way you can. Sometimes it’s on the scoresheet, sometimes it’s not and it’s other ways. I think the guys in the room know what I can bring and what I try to bring every night.”
Since returning Feb. 8, Foligno has found a home on the fourth line, helping stabilize things by doing dirty work and seizing the opportunity for offense when it comes.
“He’s been working hard on his game, especially the last two weeks,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s stayed relatively healthy, so maybe this’ll give him a little juice.”
Cassidy has worked to find a role that fit.
“Obviously, you want to play, but I missed a lot of time,” Foligno said. “Injuries didn’t help early on, coach is trying to get to know you and you’re trying to get accustomed to players and it just didn’t work out. We took a more simple approach, let my game come to me instead of trying to search for it in those minutes when the team, we need to get going. So I feel like I’m starting to find my game.”
Foligno’s role is more streamlined and defensive-minded, but he’s found ways to contribute beyond it.
“It’s been a weird year,” Foligno said. “But I’m looking forward and just excited about contributing and feeling good and seeing where it goes.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.