NEWARK, N.J. – Winger Chris Stewart had been loitering on the periphery of the Wild’s playoff push, skating as the extra on the fourth line in practice and taking a spectator’s perch when it was time for the puck drop.
But when he cracked the lineup Thursday, just his third nod this month after sitting as a healthy scratch seven of the previous nine games, Stewart made his rare appearance count.
The veteran scored the game-winning goal in a 4-2 comeback win over the Devils in front of 13,316 at Prudential Center that secured the team’s second victory on a three-game road trip that it wraps up Friday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“Hardest job in the world is not playing, but you’ve got to stay on top of it,” Stewart said. “You can’t worry about things that are out of your control. Come to work every day and when you do get in there, you want to show him why you want to play every night and just bring that energy.
“That’s something I pride myself on every time I get back in.”
Stewart was the poster boy of a show-stealing performance by the Wild’s fringe contributors, as the fourth line accounted for two goals and seventh defenseman Mike Reilly also chipped in with a goal — another shrewd tweak by coach Bruce Boudreau since Reilly had been idle the past four games.
And backup Alex Stalock, tasked with handling the first half of the back-to-back, pocketed 38 saves in his first start since Feb. 3.
“It was a long wait,” Stalock said. “That happens in this job. Working hard in practice, working extra and getting the extra reps is huge.”
All three Wild goals came in the span of 5 minutes, 36 seconds in the second period to erase a two-goal hole.
New Jersey capitalized on the power play off a blistering shot from winger Taylor Hall at 10:27 of the first to extend his point streak to 20 games.
In the second, winger Stefan Noesen pounced on a loose puck in front at 4:17 to up the Devils’ lead to 2-0.
Nearing the midway point of the period, though, the Wild started to mount a rally.
“We got our legs as the game went on,” said center Eric Staal, whose empty-netter with 1:18 to go gave him his 900th career point.
Reilly’s shot, which started the Wild’s rally, bounced off goalie Eddie Lack. who had 21 saves, and then caromed off defenseman John Moore before tumbling into the net at 7:28, not long after a Wild power play expired. The team finished 0-for-2 with a man advantage; New Jersey was 1-for-3.
Later in the period, winger Daniel Winnik cut to the middle and sent the puck across the crease for center Joel Eriksson Ek to redirect in at 12:25 for his second goal in as many games.
“This time of the year, you really have to count on your depth to pick the boys up,” Stewart said.
The very next shot belonged to Stewart, and he buried it five-hole on Lack at 13:04 — his first goal since Dec. 19, a 14-game hiatus. With an assist, defenseman Nick Seeler earned his first NHL point.
“I was really happy for him,” Boudreau said of Stewart. “He’s worked really hard for it. He’s been a great soldier.”
Stewart celebrated the goal by dropping down to a knee and unleashing a drawn-out fist pump before being mobbed by teammates.
“Good teams have balance,” Staal said. “They have guys different nights step up and make plays. Tonight was those guys and Al in net. So it was a solid effort.”