RALEIGH, N.C. — The playoffs haven’t defined Nick Foligno’s career. His name isn’t on a Stanley Cup. Prior to Monday night here, in fact, the veteran forward’s name only appeared on 55 postseason game sheets.
For a guy with 15 years in the NHL, and 1,021 regular-season games, the 34-year-old Foligno has barely dipped his toe into Cup play. Yet this time of year, when there are 16 games to win over two months, is why the Bruins hired on Foligno last summer as a free agent.
When playing big games, it’s good to have as many gamers in the lineup as possible.
“I believe in myself enough this time of year that, you know, when the details matter, when the game matters, that’s when I kind of rise to the occasion,” said Foligno, prior to the Bruins taking on the Hurricanes in Game 1 of the postseason. “I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself and say I’m some sort of playoff savior, but I like these games that mean something.”
The Bruins knew they were not getting Foligno in his prime. He is not as fast afoot in the days he captained the Blue Jackets. He also isn’t the kind of top-six producer who can be asked, or expected, to put up 40 50, 60 (or even a career-high 73) points a year.
Truth be told, the Bruins thought they were getting more than the 2-11—13 Foligno put up in the regular season. As the 82 games played out, though, he took up residence as a valued, dependable fourth-line left winger, paired with Tomas Nosek and Curtis Lazar, and the trio became a vital part of coach Bruce Cassidy’s attack.
“I don’t want to look backwards,” Foligno said. “Obviously the regular season wasn’t great, but I still did a lot of things down the stretch that made me happy about my game — I think my game’s coming and I’m really about putting that game into the postseason. I’m healthy. I’m excited about that. And I believe a lot in this group, what we can do, and it’s just a matter of making sure I’m ready to do my role.”
In a prior life, that would have meant Foligno delivering a big goal, pacing an offense, logging upward of 18-20 minutes or more among the top six forwards, filling a lead role on the power play.
Not now. He is specialist, one with a pedigree for knowing what it takes to win at this time of year. The fourth line’s raison d’etre, especially vs. Carolina, is damage control, keeping the speedy forwards under control and off the scoresheet.
Glamorous, no. Essential, yes, and a time of year when four losses over a two-week span will translate to going home for the summer.
“He was physical, his puck possession on that line was good,” said Cassidy, noting how Foligno’s game improved late in the year on the fourth line. “In the playoffs, if you can have games like that, wear down their D, it has an effect over Game 1, Game 2, Game 3 … so that’s what we expect out of him, physicality, good puck management, O-zone possession time for the line … that would be ideal.”
Voice matters, too. Foligno is not short of things to say, and that leadership, knowing the right thing to say and the right time to say it, also factored in the Bruins promising him $7.6 million over the two years of his contract.
Captain Patrice Bergeron and his primo left winger, Brad Marchand, are the key voices in the room. They have the profile, the minutes and the points to fill that role. Foligno has pitched in, particularly during games, to relieve some of that pressure.
“You would hope there are certain times in a game when he can help settle people down,” said Cassidy. “Or get them back in the right place. He’s been there and done it. Nick will have to do his part, especially if you’re not playing 17-18 minutes every night, then you want that add, that intangible. He’s done it all year for us and I would expect we’d hear more from him when we need to. "
There will be only so many more playoff games, so many more chances for a Cup. Foligno had that top of mind when he considered contract offers over the summer. He liked the fit in Boston, even if he thought he’d be working higher in the order.
The Bruins went to the Cup Final in ‘19, fell but one win short of a championship. Maybe, he thought, he could be a piece that helps complete the puzzle.
“I think you have to,” said Foligno, asked if he’s allowed himself the luxury to think of what it would be like to end the season, both hands wrapped around the Cup. “Because I think it pushes you to doing whatever it takes to win. So you have to think about. That’s what drives me to get there. That’s why I wanted to be here. It’s a group I really believe in — we’ve given ourselves the chance now and it’s about doing whatever it takes to win. I really believe strongly in us.”
The playoffs haven’t defined Nick Foligno’s career. After all this time, maybe now he can be part of the definition of the Bruins winning another Cup.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.