DENVER – Justin Fontaine has learned a ton during his rookie season.
On the ice, the Wild winger’s game continues to grow, and he has played virtually every role, from being a top-6 forward to a fourth-liner to being a shutdown guy on the third line during Games 3 and 4 of the playoffs in St. Paul.
Off the ice, he has learned that sometimes it’s the young guy squeezed from the lineup rather than the veteran.
“It’s my first year, and we’ve got a lot of depth up front, so it’s just a matter of knowing your place and staying positive so when you do get back in, you’re ready,” said Fontaine, who played his first road game in the 2014 playoffs Saturday night in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on a line with Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter.
Fontaine ranked fourth on the team with 13 goals despite being scratched 14 times during the regular season.
Yet every single time Fontaine re-enters the lineup, coach Mike Yeo has been impressed how “seamlessly” he has been able to do it.
Fontaine loves the playoff stage. He won a national championship with Minnesota Duluth in 2011.
“It’s been just as big,” said Fontaine, 26. “It’s not the championship game, but the pace and intensity is high — way higher than regular season. The playoffs is a fast game. There’s no slowing the game down. Everyone’s going, everyone’s into it. Emotions are running a lot higher. You know what’s on the line.”
By playing his third playoff game Saturday, Fontaine hit the 69-game threshold, meaning he can become a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted free agent if unsigned by July 1.
That likely assures his return to the Wild.
“I love Minnesota,” Fontaine said. “They taught me a lot this whole ride the last three years. Coming in this year and learning so much and playing a variety of situations, I’m happy to still be here, that’s for sure.”
Hatin’ the Wild
Avalanche fourth-line winger Patrick Bordeleau is not a fan of the Wild. He made his NHL debut against Minnesota last season but will forever remember being a Wild 2004 draft pick only to be dumped two years later by then-GM Doug Risebrough after attending two rookie camps.
Bordeleau, a Montreal native, wasn’t redrafted and slugged around the minors until signing as a free agent with Colorado in 2011.
“It’s part of hockey, but deep down, they let me go, so it’ll be nice to beat them,” said Bordeleau, 28.
Bordeleau has been a thorn in the Wild’s side this series. He looked to embellish a Game 3 slashing penalty by Niederreiter and kneed Jared Spurgeon in Game 4. That came one game after Matt Cooke sidelined Tyson Barrie with a kneeing penalty.
“We have a player [Cooke] that was suspended for seven games,” Yeo said.
“The very big difference is our player wasn’t hurt from it, but I would have to think both the referees and the people watching from afar are keeping a close eye on it.”
Bordeleau said he will continue to be physical.
“I can’t change my game, no matter what happens — 5-0, 0-5, 1-1, I’ve got to play the same game every time,” he said.
Oh, no … not the NHL
With the NHL continuing to debate if there’s a way to add coach’s challenges in future seasons, Avs coach Patrick Roy is all for it.
Two instances in the first round could have been examined if he had a coach’s challenge, Roy said. In Game 2, P.A. Parenteau was called offside before an empty-net goal. Replays appeared to show he was onside, and Marco Scandella scored for the Wild on the ensuing shift.
In the final minute of Game 3, Jonas Brodin of the Wild sent a puck into the stands. That would have been a penalty, but linesman Shane Heyer felt the puck deflected off Nathan MacKinnon’s stick.
“This is a situation where you should have the right to challenge,” Roy said Thursday. “I think if the league tried to go in that direction, I think it would be better for our game. And I think it would take some pressure off the referees.
“And I understand how they feel when they’re on the ice. They want to make sure they’re 100 percent. If they have just a small doubt, they don’t feel comfortable to make [the Brodin] call.
“It’s a quick call, a quick decision. It’s not as simple as it appears.”
Of course, after Saturday’s game, the Wild wouldn’t mind replay either. On the Avs’ tying goal, by Parenteau, Paul Stastny appeared to be offside.
• Game 6 in St. Paul will be 8 p.m. and televised by FSN.