NEW YORK – After most of the Wild players had exited Madison Square Garden Friday morning to rest up for the latest test that evening against the Rangers, winger Chris Stewart, defenseman Gustav Olofsson and goalie Alex Stalock were on the ice.
This is normal protocol for the healthy scratches, who tend to skate late before taking a seat in the press box or somewhere in the bowels of the arena during the game.
And despite these situations of going about a different routine than the rest of the group, the players in and out of the lineup still feel they’re very much involved in the Wild’s pursuit for the postseason.
“We try to make them better in practice obviously and feel like we’re helping out that way,” Stalock said. “Then obviously, the other guys take care of it on the ice.”
Since rosters can flex to 23 — and beyond after the trade deadline — it’s inevitable that a few players have to sit. Working diligently in practice is one way to support the team; so is a positive attitude in the locker room.
But the opportunity to make an impact in a game does occasionally pop up for the scratches, like it did Thursday when Stewart delivered the game-winner, defenseman Mike Reilly opened the Wild’s scoring and Stalock was solid en route to a 4-2 victory over the Devils.
Those chances are rewarding, but they don’t define the value these players put on their roles.
“I’m still a big part of the team,” Stewart said. “These guys are like my family. Even when I’m not playing and I see my boys score, I’m the happiest guy for them. I really bank on being a heart and soul guy.”
Depth for days
While the bubble players shined in the win Thursday, the entire road trip to that point flattered the team’s depth.
Center Joel Eriksson Ek scored twice, and center Matt Cullen had a goal and assist in the 5-3 comeback over the Islanders on Monday. Overall, the third and fourth lines contributed five of the nine goals through the first two games.
“The responsibility is better,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
“I think they’re pushing each other. Whether it’s right or wrong, one of them has usually been sitting and then coming in the right day and the other one wants to be better than the one before. I think there’s an inner pressure a little bit. That’s really good right now. I think it’s working for everybody.”
After backhanding the puck into an empty net Thursday, center Eric Staal became just the 110th player in NHL history to reach 900 points and only the eighth active player to hit the plateau.
“It’s nice,” Staal said.
“I still feel like I’ve got a lot of hockey left to play in my career. But nonetheless, it’s a nice even number. It’s been a lot of fun, a credit to the ton of guys I’ve played with over my career so far. Hoping for a lot more the rest of my time playing.”
No. 1 goalie Devan Dubnyk returned to the crease Friday after Stalock stymied the Devils the night before, making 38 saves.
Stalock almost helped out on offense, too, as he sent the puck down the ice as New Jersey goalie Eddie Lack was skating toward the bench to give the Devils an extra attacker in the waning moments of the game.
“Up two goals, in my mind that’s a green light,” Stalock said.
“I guess we’ll see what the coach says. It’s fun. When they put it right in on you, you get a little more time. It was fun to get a chance.”
Lack had to hustle back and lunged with his stick to stop the puck, whose trajectory lined up with the net.
“It would have been pretty cool,” Boudreau said. “It was going right in the middle of the net. So it would have been pretty cool.”