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.


Tennessee 7:25 PM
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 117 FINAL
San Antonio 116
Milwaukee 97 FINAL
Portland 104
Houston 115 FINAL
Denver 111
Indiana 100 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
SMU 67
Texas State 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 66
SC State 39 FINAL
Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
Western Ky 75
Morehead State 50 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
Winthrop 62 FINAL
Auburn 80
New Mexico St 55 FINAL
Baylor 66
San Diego St 62 FINAL
Cincinnati 71
Eastern Mich 46 FINAL
Michigan State 66
Loyola Marymount 58 FINAL
Stanford 67
Incarnate Word 82 FINAL
Grand Canyon 80
Northeastern 58 FINAL
Cal Poly 60
Central Arkansas 55 FINAL
New Mexico 76
Howard 45 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Portland 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 56 FINAL
Oregon 79
Grambling St 38 FINAL
Washington 86
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
Texas Southern 92 FINAL
Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
Appalachian St 72
NC Central 52 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 67
Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 65 FINAL
Eastern Washington 72
North Texas 42 FINAL
San Francisco 60
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