NEWARK, N.J. -- When Clayton Stoner drew up the first goal of his NHL career as a kid, it probably didn't look anything like the game-winner he scored against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
Out of gas at the end of a shift early in the third period, the rookie defenseman of the Minnesota Wild dumped the puck into the zone and turned toward the bench. Stoner never saw the puck hit the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk, ricochet off the glass and carom into a vacated net.
The goal turned out to be the difference in the Wild's 2-1 victory at Prudential Center.
"I was thinking about burning the tape and telling a different story a few years from now," the 25-year-old said. "It was a lucky goal. It was one of those ones that sometimes you need that lucky goal just to win a hockey game. We needed those two points. That's pretty huge."
The Wild improved to 6-2-1 in their last nine games and moved within two points of eighth place in the Western Conference thanks to one of the flukiest goals of the season.
"You know what? It was a slapper, top of the circles, he beat the goalie clean right over the glove, off the post and in," joked Wild coach Todd Richards.
Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg, who couldn't get back in position after he went behind the net expecting to play the puck, didn't find the goal funny.
"It's not fun, that's for sure," said Hedberg, who was making his first start since coach Jacques Lemaire said he would go by game-by-game with his goaltenders since Martin Brodeur was struggling so badly. "I've got to be more selective when I come out. It seems to happen now and then. For me, I want to be apart of the play around my net. It's an instinct when I see him dump it in to go after it.
"But that's a bounce I had never seen before."
Lemaire was fuming at his post-game news conference. Most coaches would be when their team goes the first 20 minutes with just one shot on goal. When asked about the start, he cleverly responded, "What start? I didn't see any."
When pressed to explain the poor first period, Lemaire took a deep breath and said, "I'm just (angry). I'll try not to talk too much."
However, he did have a positive review of Hedberg's overall game.
"He played good. Unlucky on that second goal there," Lemaire said. "I thought he played good. It's good to see Heddy starting to play with more confidence."
Lemaire wasn't ready to say Hedberg would get his second his start in a row against the Philadelphia Flyers at home Thursday.
"We'll think about that. It's still early," Lemaire said. "We don't go a day a time. We go an hour at a time now."
The Wild completely owned the first period, outshooting the Devils 8-1. New Jersey didn't get its shot until there was 8:39 remaining in the period and Jamie Langenbrunner's long wrister earned mock cheers from most of the 13,257 in attendance.
Just 17 seconds later, Cal Clutterbuck put the Wild up 1-0. Kovalchuk caught an edge and wiped out while carrying the puck through the neutral zone. Clutterbuck picked up the puck, raced down the right side and scored his 11th of the season with a wrist shot from deep inside circle that went past Hedberg's catching glove, off the post and into the net.
Whatever was said between periods served to inspire the Devils, who came out with more speed and passion in the second period.
The pressure eventually led to Kovalchuk scoring his 11th of the season with a wrist shot from the left circle that beat goaltender Jose Theodore to the far side at 3:07.
Kovalchuk wasn't ready to bask in the glow of that goal after the game. He was asked about that goal but interrupted the question by saying, "Come on. Who cares?"
He was concerned with the unlucky bounce -- or lucky, if you're a Wild player or fan -- that ended up being the difference.
"Who's going to believe that?" Kovalchuk said of the goal. "He played an unbelievable game. He didn't give much. Not a lot of rebounds."
The Wild are hoping they can keep the momentum going. They are in 11th place in the log-jam that is the West, but are just four points out of fourth place. It was an impressive road performance that came two days after a home overtime win against the Phoenix Coyotes in which they needed to tie the game with 26 seconds left in regulation just to get to overtime.
"It was a big emotional win. I wasn't sure what we were going to get tonight coming off of that," Richards said. "Because, to me, you look at our past and coming off of big wins, we haven't responded. But I really liked the way we played the first period. We were ready to go and had some jump.
"It was one of those games where we bent a little bit but didn't break and found a way to win the game."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo