Justin Fontaine (14) gave the Wild a 1-0 lead over Phoenix in the first period Thursday night.
Ross D. FranklinAssociated Press,
Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom got some help in the net from teammate Nate Prosser as Phoenix’s Keith Yandle took a shot.
Minnesota Wild’s Justin Fontaine, middle, celebrates his goal against the Phoenix Coyotes with teammates Matt Cooke (24) and Jonas Brodin, of Sweden, during the first period in an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin • Associated Press,
Fontaine's hat trick sparks Wild to fourth straight win
- Article by: Michael Russo
- Star Tribune
- January 10, 2014 - 6:44 AM
GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Chuck Fletcher is trying hard to make a trade to help his depleted roster.
That was clear the past two days when the Wild general manager was rarely seen in the team hotel’s courtyard without his cell phone to his ear and depth charts at his side.
The Wild is without veterans Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, defenseman Jared Spurgeon and goalie Josh Harding.
Fletcher’s biggest priority could be goaltending, although Niklas Backstrom did his best during Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes to alleviate that concern by making 39 saves for his third consecutive victory and the team’s fourth in a row.
“Outstanding. Outstanding,” said coach Mike Yeo, who gave Backstrom the start despite rookie Darcy Kuemper’s 39-save effort in Tuesday’s win in Los Angeles. “You could tell he wanted the net.”
Backstrom wouldn’t be outdone though by Justin Fontaine, who entered the night with eight one-goal games and left with his first three-goal game.
Two games after Ryan Suter became the first Wild defenseman to record a hat trick and first Wild player to do so in three years, Fontaine became the first rookie, connecting on the 17th hat trick in Wild history.
It was Fontaine’s first hat trick since his junior year at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
In the first period, he had a shocking amount of time to pick his spot and blow a shot through Matt Cooke’s screen and by goalie Mike Smith. In the third period, 4½ minutes after Kyle Brodziak’s eventual winning goal, Fontaine got lucky when Jason Pominville’s dump-in hit a stanchion and caromed to the front of the net with Smith behind it. Fontaine finished off the hatty when Yeo graciously put him out for an empty-netter.
“Got some bounces tonight,” said Fontaine, who is third on the Wild with 11 goals despite being a healthy scratch six times.
“He’s paid his dues and he’s just done nothing but show up to the rink every day and doesn’t take anything for granted,” Yeo said.
Brodziak had two points and was plus-3 and Cooke and Nino Niederreiter had two assists each to help the Wild complete a 2-0 road sweep and win in regulation on the road for the first time since Nov. 20.
The hot streak has made all that talk about Yeo’s job being in jeopardy during a six-game losing streak seem like months ago. Those must-win games against Buffalo and Washington were really last week.
“We tried to be too perfect there for a stretch, we tried to make the big play every shift or make the big save every time you see a puck,” Backstrom said. “Now we’re playing our game the whole 60 minutes, shift in, shift out.”
Yeo went with Backstrom over Kuemper because of the magnitude of the game. With the victory, the Wild hopped over Phoenix and into the top eight for the first time since Dec. 22.
Still, Harding has been sidelined for eight of the past 10 games and his health is unpredictable because of multiple sclerosis. Backstrom, who is 5-9-2, has had four injuries or illnesses this season and recent abdominal soreness the team hopes doesn’t linger.
This has made Fletcher wonder if he needs to add goalie insurance. Rather than giving up an asset in a trade, the GM is considering signing free agent Jose Theodore to a one-year contract, sources said.
Theodore, the former Hart Trophy winner with the Montreal Canadiens, went 15-11-3 in 32 games for the Wild in 2010-11 but hasn’t played this season. He skates weekly and works out daily.
It’ll be interesting to see if Backstrom’s recent play slows the GM down.
“If the goalie doesn’t play well, teams hardly ever have any success,” Backstrom said.
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