Both are in a far different place now.
Fontaine registered his first NHL hat trick and Kyle Brodziak snapped a 1-1 tie by beating Mike Smith on a partial breakaway 3:21 into the third period to help the Wild win their fourth straight game by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 4-1 Thursday night.
Fontaine scored his ninth, 10th and 11th goals of the season, and Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter each had a pair of assists for the Wild, who swept a two-game Western trip. They beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in a shootout on Tuesday.
After losing six straight from Dec. 19-31 and with forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, defenseman Jared Spurgeon and goalie Josh Harding all out of the lineup due to injuries or illness, the Wild are on a roll that has moved them back among the top eight in the Western Conference with 53 points.
"(Hat tricks) aren't the easiest thing to come by. I got a couple of nice bounces and that helps," said Fontaine, who last had a hat trick during his junior year in college at Minnesota-Duluth. "Being a healthy scratch isn't fun. But you pay your dues and you learn every day and you grow and with the guys we have out you want to make a contribution."
Fontaine is third on the team in goals, behind Jason Pominville and Parise.
"We have a lot of young guys out there right now following some great veteran leadership and we're playing the game that we need to play," he said. "We've come through a tough stretch. Everyone stayed tight in the room and we got back to the way we need to be playing.
Niklas Backstrom made 39 saves, at least 12 in each period, for the win after sitting out the game in L.A. due to abdominal soreness.
"You could tell he wanted the net and wanted this opportunity," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said.
Mikkel Boedker stayed hot with a power-play goal for the Coyotes. But Phoenix has lost three of five games on this homestand and fell to ninth in the West, two points behind the surging Wild.
Phoenix had at least 12 shots in every period but had little to show for them. Smith, who has three wins in his last 17 starts, made 24 saves for the Coyotes.
"We had our opportunities to score and we didn't. We gave them an opportunity to hang around and they did and they found a way to win," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "If we want to find a way to take it to the next level, take that next step as a group, when we get guys who get those opportunities we've got to score them.
"C'mon. We've got to get more than one."
Brodziak put Minnesota ahead to stay when he won a race with Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle for the puck near center ice, chipped himself clear of the defense and fired a shot that Smith got some of -- but not enough. Brodziak has eight of his 85 career goals against the Coyotes and has 16 points in 26 career games against Phoenix.
Fontaine made it 3-1 at 7:56 on a fortunate bounce. Jason Pominville's dump-in caught a glass frame in the corner and ricocheted right to the net. With Smith out of the crease, Fontaine won a race to the puck with a dive and pushed in his fourth goal in six games.
Fontaine completed the hat trick by hitting the empty net with 1:12 left.
"He's paid his dues and done nothing but show up to the rink ready to work," Yeo said. "He doesn't take anything for granted and recognizes the opportunity he has to play in the NHL. Like our team that can't be satisfied with things going pretty well. Fonzie wants more wants to be even better."
Both teams had near misses in the latter stages of the first period. Pominville's one-timer hit the post with 8:40 left, and Phoenix's Martin Hanzal tipped a Derek Morris shot off the crossbar less than three minutes later.
The Wild broke through with the help of a Phoenix turnover. Yandle sent a blind backhand pass up the middle of the ice from between the circles. Fontaine grabbed it at the blue line, skated in and used Yandle as a screen to beat Smith over the glove at 18:41.
"It was kind of a miscommunication," Tippett said. "I think Yandle thought [Mike] Ribeiro was going to get it and Ribeiro was holding up the guy for Yandle. Ultimately we give the puck away and it ends up in the back of our net."
The Coyotes got even 2:04 into the second period with the help of a Minnesota penalty. With Cooke off for cross checking, Backstrom was able to stop Doan's deflection in front of the net. But Doan tracked down the rebound behind the net and centered the puck to Boedker, who whirled a backhander on the ice that slid under Backstrom's arm on the stick side.
Boedker's career-best 14th goal was his fourth in the past five games and his sixth point in the same span.
"We outshot them but we didn't create enough chances in front of their net," Boedker said. "Once [Backstrom] sees the puck he's going to stop them.
"It's tough riding from now on. When you drop one to a team that's ahead of us in the standings, we're going to be in the chasing mode now."
|Justin Fontaine (9) ASST: Matt Cooke (12)|
1 - 0 MIN
|PPG - Mikkel Boedker (14) ASST: Shane Doan (13), Michael Stone (5)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Kyle Brodziak (4) ASST: Matt Cooke (13), Marco Scandella (10)|
2 - 1 MIN
|PPG - Justin Fontaine (10) ASST: Jason Pominville (13), Nino Niederreiter (14)|
3 - 1 MIN
|EN - Justin Fontaine (11) ASST: Kyle Brodziak (9), Nino Niederreiter (15)|
4 - 1 MIN
|Matt Cooke Cross checking against Martin Hanzal|
|Paul Bissonnette Holding the stick against Matt Cooke|
|Stephane Veilleux Tripping against Rob Klinkhammer|
|Connor Murphy Tripping against Charlie Coyle|
|Antoine Vermette Hooking against Justin Fontaine|
|Nino Niederreiter Delay of game - bench|