NEWARK, N.J. – The Wild was primed for a bounce-back performance.
It was sputtering after deflating against the Oilers, a 4-1 wake-up call issued by Edmonton on Thursday that drew blunt reviews from coach Bruce Boudreau and players.
And, in keeping with the season’s roller coaster theme, the Wild responded as expected Saturday afternoon.
But where it went off-script was in who led the resistance.
After concentrating its offensive leaders on the first two lines, it was the third trio featuring center Joel Eriksson Ek and wingers Marcus Foligno and Luke Kunin that was the Wild’s most effective — scoring three times to set up a 4-2 slump-busting win over the Devils in front of 15,783 at Prudential Center.
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“This was a game for us that we needed to step up,” Foligno said.
Each player chipped in a goal, with Foligno’s Gordie Howe hat trick — a goal, assist and fight — headlining the unit’s five-point effort.
Once the Wild went down by a goal 6 minutes, 57 seconds into the first period when New Jersey winger Brett Seney converted on a rising shot off the rush, it was the third line that erased the deficit on a blistering backhand by Foligno after a wraparound at 12:19 that Kunin helped put in motion.
“We did a really good job of just keeping things simple and knowing where each other was going to go, and that contributed to the offense we had,” Foligno said.
Just 4:34 into the second period, the Wild took the lead on a deflection by winger Zach Parise on the power play for his team-leading 22nd goal. Overall, the unit finished 1-for-3 while the penalty killers snuffed out both Devils chances.
After that, the third line took over.
With 4:53 to go in the period, it delivered its second of the game — a putback by Eriksson Ek that was assisted on by Foligno.
That capped off a Gordie Howe hat trick for Foligno, who fought winger Kurtis Gabriel earlier in the period.
“Everyone started calling me, ‘Gordie,’ ” said Foligno, who notched his first multipoint effort of the season. “I guess that’s a really good nickname to have in this league.”
Eriksson Ek’s second goal in as many contests morphed into the game-winner in the third period when the Devils moved within one after winger Jesper Bratt cut inside and slid the puck by goalie Devan Dubnyk just 3:56 into the frame.
But Kunin gave the team more breathing room when he intercepted a New Jersey clearing attempt and skated into the Devils zone to wire the puck by goalie Cory Schenider at 7:40 — an unassisted, workmanlike effort that extended his career-high point streak to three games and defined the play of his unit.
Dubnyk had 16 saves, while Schneider totaled 29.
“Nothing too flashy,” Kunin said. “Just get pucks back and get them to the net, and it worked.”
This maintained the Wild’s grip on the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference and improved it to an impressive 6-0 in afternoon games on the road and 7-1 overall in matinees, a record that suddenly stokes optimism that the week can end on a high note since the team is back in action Sunday afternoon against the New York Islanders.
“You get a goal, you get a fight, and it kind of fires the guys up and we need it here,” Foligno said. “There’s kind of not a lull around our team, but there’s just so much outside noise right now that we just got to realize that it takes the guys in here to change it. And everyone’s willing to do it, and we know that we’re a playoff hockey team.”