Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Fontaine, Backstrom shine in win at Phoenix; Wild considering Theo?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: January 10, 2014 - 12:17 AM

Funny thing happened Thursday morning inside the visitor’s dressing room here at Glendale Arena.

As the room opened, a swarm of media headed to the back wall of the room. Justin Fontaine was all alone back there, so he stood up to address to the horde of buzzards, I mean reporters, before we all made an abrupt beeline to his right where Jon Blum’s stall was.

Psyche! After all, it would be Blum’s Wild debut later that night. Fontaine started laughing as all his teammates began making fun of him.

“False alarm,” Fontaine said, embarrassingly.

Turns out we should have probably chatted with “Fonzie” because hours later Fontaine would connect on his first career hat trick in a 4-1 win over Phoenix, the Wild’s fourth consecutive win to thrust it back into the top-8 in the West for the first time since Dec. 22 (just an fyi, everybody around them, including the Coyotes, have games in hand on Minnesota, so don’t get too excited yet).

After the Wild went 1,449 days without a hat trick, it picked up its second in five days. Saturday against Washington, Ryan Suter became the first defenseman. Tonight, Fontaine became the first rookie, and this is a guy that was a healthy scratch six times in a 12-game stretch from Nov. 29-Dec. 22. He became the ninth Wild player to get a hat trick and 17th overall.

The first came off Keith Yandle’s rebound when he blew one by Matt Cooke’s screen. The second was a lucky bounce when Jason Pominville’s dump-in hit a stanchion and went to the front of the net with Mike Smith out. The third was an empty-netter.

Kyle Brodziak scored the winning goal, had an assist and was plus-3, Cooke and Nino Niederreiter had two assists each and Niklas Backstrom made 39 saves for his third win in a row as the Wild won in regulation on the road for the first time since Nov. 20 to complete a 2-0 road sweep.

The Wild has the day off Friday and hosts Colorado on Saturday before playing in Nashville on Saturday. Kent Youngblood will cover the Avs game.

The big story in my eyes tonight was Backstrom. A lot of us were surprised tonight at Mike Yeo’s decision to come back with Backstrom because of the magnitude of the game over Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper made 39 saves in L.A for his second career win.

But Backstrom didn’t disappoint. Personally, I think it was an organizational decision because the team needs to see 1) if Backstrom is healthy; 2) if he can continue to play well with this team so needing him right now.

Why do I say that? The Wild’s concerned about its goaltending with Josh Harding’s uncertain health situation and Backstrom’s struggles in the first half and his four afflictions this season (knee, concussion, virus and now abdominal soreness).

As I wrote in Friday’s game story, GM Chuck Fletcher may be looking to add a goaltender to provide some insurance. This is a league where it’s awfully difficult to make a trade and Fletcher also isn’t looking to throw away assets. So according to sources, the Wild is interested in maybe signing free agent Jose Theodore, who is working out daily and skating weekly in South Florida.

Again, we’ll see if Backstrom’s three-game winning streak and outstanding performance tonight (27 of his 39 saves in the first 40 minutes) slows the GM down, but after talking to a bunch of people, it wouldn’t shock me at all if Fletcher eventually looks at signing Theodore. A lot really depends on what’s the word on Harding once we get back to Minnesota.

The Wild is spending the night in Phoenix and heading back in the morning for an off-day. Next access is Saturday morning. Mikko Koivu is also expected to talk for the first time since ankle surgery Saturday morning, so Kent will have that.

Amazing that it was just last week when the Wild was at the trail end of a six-game losing streak and Yeo was potentially on the chopping block if he had lost to Buffalo or Washington. It feels like centuries ago. I’ll have a lot more on that in Saturday’s paper.

I emailed back and forth with Zach Parise today. He became a dad to twins yesterday, and I talked to him about shot blockers and fatherhood. Those quotes are in the Blum/Ballard game notebook on www.startribune.com/wild.

Jason Zucker took a puck from Shane Doan’s shot above the left kneecap in the third period tonight. Scary scene as he couldn’t put any weight on it going down the runway. But afterward, he was walking, had four stitches and said he’ll be fine.

That’s it for now. Barring news, no blog Friday.


Houston 2 FINAL
St. Louis 5
Washington 9 FINAL
Atlanta 8
Miami 5 FINAL
Boston 3
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 1
Baltimore 4 FINAL
Toronto 5
Detroit - LP: J. Mantiply 4 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: C. Torres 5
Cincinnati 5 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Los Angeles 10 FINAL
Milwaukee 1
San Francisco 12 FINAL
Texas 3
Chicago WSox 0 FINAL
San Diego 5
Kansas City 11 FINAL
Cleveland 9
Seattle 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 7
Colorado 0 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 7 FINAL
Arizona 2
Pittsburgh 2 Top 4th Inning
NY Yankees 0
Chicago 42 3rd Qtr
Indiana 45
Sacramento 57 3rd Qtr
Orlando 68
Utah 41 3rd Qtr
Philadelphia 42
Miami 39 3rd Qtr
Washington 67
Toronto 42 3rd Qtr
Charlotte 53
Cleveland 19 2nd Qtr
Atlanta 36
Boston 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Detroit 7:00 PM
LA Lakers 7:00 PM
Phoenix 7:00 PM
Denver 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Dallas 9:30 PM
Golden State
Columbus 2 2nd Prd 15:15
New Jersey 0
Minnesota 1 2nd Prd 14:19
Carolina 0
Buffalo 1 1st Prd 4:41
Ottawa 0
Calgary 1 1st Prd 3:39
Detroit 2
Edmonton 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Longwood 68 FINAL
Char Southern 60
Ark-Pine Bluff 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 75
Southern Ill 45 FINAL
Wichita State 56
Winthrop 67 FINAL
Radford 66
Evansville 67 FINAL
Illinois State 71
Towson 69 1st OT 0:10
Elon 72
Gardner-Webb 69 1st OT 1:15
High Point 68
Samford 76 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Northern Ill 20 2nd Half
Ball State 22
Bowling Green 35 2nd Half
Buffalo 35
Brown 35 2nd Half 17:50
Dartmouth 24
Toledo 29 2nd Half
Eastern Mich 31
Akron 36 2nd Half 16:02
Kent State 43
Ill-Chicago 31 2nd Half 17:49
Oakland 30
Miami-Ohio 30 2nd Half
Ohio 53
Columbia 12 2nd Half 17:34
Penn 26
Cornell 29 2nd Half 17:18
Princeton 39
Central Mich 22 2nd Half
Western Mich 39
Bradley 25 2nd Half 19:40
Northern Iowa 27
Morehead State 22 1st Half 5:27
Murray State 28
UNC-Asheville 7:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Yale 7:00 PM
Furman 7:30 PM
Coll of Charleston 7:30 PM
Texas Tech 8:00 PM
Pacific 8:00 PM
San Francisco
Detroit 8:30 PM
Cleveland State
Belmont 8:30 PM
Eastern Ky
Loyola-Chicago 8:35 PM
Indiana State
Loyola Marymount 10:30 PM
Santa Clara
Chicago 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
(21) George Washington 77
Wake Forest 68 FINAL
(16) Duke 77
Furman 55 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 68
Monmouth 61 FINAL
Quinnipiac 82
Michigan State 60 FINAL
(4) Maryland 70
Belmont 65 FINAL
UT Martin 71
Arkansas 36 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 58
Mercer 56 FINAL
East Tenn St 66
Richmond 45 FINAL
Fordham 46
Miami-Florida 61 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 77
Siena 61 FINAL
Iona 71
Washington St 48 FINAL
(9) Arizona State 67
Ark-Pine Bluff 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 51
(23) Rutgers 57 FINAL
(24) Northwestern 62
Tennessee St 71 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 59
Loyola Marymount 50 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
(18) Texas A&M 65 FINAL
LSU 71
Cincinnati 76 FINAL
UCF 66
Saint Josephs 61 FINAL
Dayton 80
(19) Stanford 67
Santa Clara 42 FINAL
San Diego 51
Virginia Tech 43 FINAL
(7) Florida State 82
SMU 57 2nd Half 1:24
Memphis 65
Lehigh 75 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Rhode Island 29 2nd Half 16:35
Duquesne 31
North Florida 15 2nd Half 16:39
(20) Fla Gulf Coast 36
Kennesaw St 29 2nd Half
Jacksonville 27
USC Upstate 18 2nd Half 18:00
Northern Ky 24
Lipscomb 32 2nd Half 16:19
Stetson 57
Nebraska 33 2nd Half 17:42
(14) Iowa 41
Saint Peters 37 2nd Half 13:27
Marist 33
Navy 36 2nd Half 13:55
Bucknell 30
Lafayette 31 2nd Half 17:30
American Univ 41
Colgate 19 2nd Half 16:39
Army 23
Georgia 14 2nd Half 17:26
(5) Tennessee 35
Dartmouth 49 2nd Half 14:31
Brown 31
Penn 26 2nd Half 17:33
Columbia 16
(13) Princeton 57 2nd Half 11:29
Cornell 24
Kansas 12 2nd Half 18:35
Kansas State 27
Harvard 47 2nd Half 11:02
Yale 48
(15) North Carolina 7:00 PM
(10) Louisville
Houston 7:00 PM
San Jose St 5 1st Half 18:35
Utah State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Colorado 8:00 PM
(8) Oregon State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
Minnesota 8:25 PM
Ohio State
(12) Kentucky 8:25 PM
(11) Miss State
San Diego State 8:30 PM
Niagara 8:30 PM
Texas Tech 8:30 PM
West Virginia
Boise State 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Washington 10:30 PM
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