NEWARK, NJ — Skating alongside the Minnesota Wild bench on a play that developed into a 2-on-1 opportunity, fourth-line winger Chris Stewart heard the screaming voices of his teammates, yelling from behind the boards to bring out his secret weapon.
In this particular case, peer pressure was a very good thing for Stewart and the Wild, as his decision to shoot the puck on net turned into his game-winning goal and the Minnesota Wild went on to defeat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 at the Prudential Center on Thursday, the Wild’s second win out of two on their three-game New York City area road swing.
After a big collision at the Minnesota blue line between Wild left winger Daniel Winnik and Devils defenseman Andy Greene created a loose puck, Stewart picked up the puck and found himself in a lot of space as he raced into New Jersey’s zone. As he was thinking about whether to pass to teammate Joel Eriksson Ek, who was streaking down the ice on the other side of him, or to shoot it himself, almost all of the rest of the Wild players Stewart skated past along the boards made their opinions well-known as they shouted at him to take his “no-look” shot, where he looks at his teammate on the other wing while firing a shot on goal.
Stewart listened to them. He scored, through the five-hole of Devils goalkeeper Eddie Lack to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead late in the second period.
“I heard the boys calling from the bench to do the “no-look,” said Stewart, who scored his first goal since Dec. 19, a span of 14 games. “It’s something that I do in practice a lot.”
Most times in practice, Stewart breaks out that shot against one of the best goalkeepers in the league, Devan Dubnyk. Therefore, practice must make perfect, right?
“I said if it can work on Devan Dubnyk, it could work on every other goalie in this league,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s goal was the second goal for the Wild in a 39-second span, turning around a 2-1 deficit. Eriksson Ek scored on a tap-in in front after a centering pass from Winnik to tie the game at 2-2 at the 12:25 mark of the second period, allowing Minnesota to wipe out an early 2-0 deficit.
Just seconds after Eriksson Ek’s goal, and with the fourth line still on the ice, Stewart gave the Wild the lead, and backup goalkeeper Alex Stalock made that lead hold up as he made 38 saves, including stopping all 16 Devils shots in the third period. Defenseman Mike Reilly scored his second goal of the year in the first period and Eric Staal added an empty net goal, marking his 900th career point, to seal the game for the Wild at the 18:42 mark of the third.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Stalock said about the New York City area road trip. “We’ve been hanging out as a group and we’ve had time to have our fun. Now it’s time to work and I think you’re seeing that time getting together is paying off on the ice.”
For the second consecutive game, New Jersey carried the play on the ice but got nothing to show for it in the end. On Tuesday against Columbus, the Devils held the Blue Jackets to just six shots on goal in the final 40 minutes but ended up on the losing end of a 2-1 decision. Tonight, New Jersey outshot the Wild 40-26, including lopsided totals of 18-6 in the first period and 16-6 in the third.
“When you look at scoring chances, shot generation, territory, getting pucks to the net, having traffic and having opportunities to do that, we’ve done a good job,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “The pucks haven’t bounced in for us.”
New Jersey scored the first two goals of the game: Taylor Hall’s power play goal at 10:27 of the first period and Stefan Noesen’s backhand shot from just in front of Stalock at 4:17 of the second.
Hall’s goal now gives him a 20-game point-scoring streak.