By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Justin Fontaine scored three goals, Niklas Backstrom stopped 39 shots and the Minnesota Wild won their fourth straight game by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 4-1 on Thursday night.
Fontaine scored late in the first period, gave the Wild a two-goal lead on a power play in the third and closed out his first career hat trick with an empty-net goal.
Kyle Brodziak had a goal and an assist, Matt Cook had two assists and Backstrom won his third straight start after allowing 17 goals the previous four.
Mikkel Boedker scored for the Coyotes, who have lost three of four.
As midseason games go, this was an important one for two teams who have struggled to stay in playoff position in the Western Conference.
The Wild opened the season 15-5-4, lost six straight to close out December, then opened the New Year with three straight wins, including a 2-1 shootout victory over the Kings on Tuesday.
The Coyotes got off to the second-best start in franchise history at 13-4-3, but have been inconsistent since, plagued by injuries and loose play in their own end.
Phoenix ended a 2-4-3 stretch with arguably its most complete game of the season against Calgary on Tuesday, when Thomas Greiss stopped 27 shots for his second career shutout and the offense supplied six goals for the team's first regulation win in nearly a month.
That left the Coyotes and Wild tied for eighth in the West with 51 points each, though Minnesota had played three more games.
Phoenix came out firing, outshooting Minnesota 15-7 in the first period.
The Wild scored first, though, thanks to a turnover by Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle.
Trying to clear the puck under pressure in front of the crease, Yandle sent it right to the slot, where Fontaine gathered it and beat Mike Smith to the glove side late in the first period.
The Coyotes kept up the pressure early in the second period and tied it on a power play when Boedker spun around and slipped a backhander under Backstrom just before he fell to the ice.
Phoenix continued to generate nearly twice as many shots, but Minnesota scored the next goal early in the third period.
This one came on a defensive miscue as well: Yandle was caught pinching in Minnesota's zone, Brodziak ended up with a partial breakaway and sent a wrister that went off Smith into the goal.
Fontaine put Minnesota up 3-1 a few minutes later when he fought off Antoine Vermette and flicked in a one-handed shot as he was going down. Smith had circled behind the goal to play Jason Pominville's dump-in and had no chance of getting back when the puck caromed off the boards to the front of the goal.
Notes: Phoenix D Oliver Ekman-Larsson returned after missing two games with an upper-body injury. ... Wild LW Zach Parise missed his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury and Mikko Koivu missed his second straight with a broken ankle. They have a combined 23 goals and 39 assists. ... Thursday was the 10-year anniversary of Coyotes G Brian Boucher setting the modern-day NHL record with his fifth consecutive shutout — against Minnesota.