2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Niklas Backstrom Returning to the Minnesota Wild net?


Apr 23, 2013; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) makes a save in the third period at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeat the Kings 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY SportsChicago – The plot thickens for the Minnesota Wild as No. 1 goaltender Niklas Backstrom makes a surprise appearance at the United Center for today’s team skate.

At the very least, this could mean Backstrom feels well enough to at least test the leg out on the ice. However, according to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo, it appears Josh Harding will likely be the man in net as he took full control of one net while Backstrom and rookie Darcy Kuemper rotated out of the other in practice.

Even if Backstrom is close to making a return, it’s hard not to roll with Harding after his impressive performance on Tuesday night after playing just five regular season games. The playoffs are an intense grind where teams are more likely to succeed because of a hot goaltender than a hot top goal scorer. A top goal scorer will get you far in the playoffs but, in the end, is usually smothered by an even hotter netminder. Just look at Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk against Jonathan Quick last year, or the Sedins and Ryan Kesler against Tim Thomas the year before.

Could this year’s man with the hot glove be Minnesota’s Josh Harding? It’s certainly possible. In fact, as bad as it sounds, Harding’s early season struggles with his MS medications may have been a blessing in disguise. Nik Backstrom has been Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo’s bread and butter all season, but there’s no question he has to be, at the very least, a little bit exhausted after his stellar play as Minnesota’s work horse. Then cue Harding, a man who’s feeling great and ready to go after coming back from what he’s been dealing with, and plays nothing short of amazing in Minnesota’s 2-1 overtime loss in Game One. Harding has energy, he’s a guy that plays with emotion and he’s still set on being Minnesota’s No. 1 netminder for years to come.

If the Wild can continue to play great defense and get the ball rolling on the offensive side of the puck, Harding should be well situated to fill the starting role for as long as needed if he continues to remain healthy. Considering what the man has gone through and how well he’s been playing, Minnesota needs to ride Harding for as long as they can. After 11 long years, there is no better time for Josh Harding to shine than now.