The Minnesota Wild enter Tuesday night’s Game 4 against the Chicago Blackhawks on the high of a 3-2 overtime win in Game 3, and they will look to win a second straight home game and even the Western Conference quarterfinal series at two games apiece.
The big story just prior to Game 1 last Tuesday night was the leg injury suffered by Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom during pre-game warmups. Backup Josh Harding, who only played five games (three starts) during the regular season as he battled the effects of multiple sclerosis, was then pressed into action. Surely any chance Minnesota had to win Game 1, and perhaps the entire series, had gotten even more slim without their top goalie.
But Harding played well (35 saves) in the Wild’s 2-1 overtime loss in Game 1, made 43 saves despite a loss in Game 2 and had another good performance in Sunday’s win with 25 saves. What was a big story, and perhaps an even bigger concern given Harding’s health status, only a week ago now seems like much ado about nothing.
Backstrom’s absence has left the Wild without one of its best players, and arguably one of the NHL’s best goaltenders. But Harding has done nothing to deserve being benched up to this point, and surely has performed better than anyone could have expected through the first three games against Chicago.
Backstrom’s status for Game 4 and the rest of the series, even as a possible backup to Harding, is at best unclear right now. But a recent report suggested he will not be rushed back into action with Harding playing at such a high level, which is not a big surprise.
Backstrom’s return to action could be a galvanizing and empowering force for the Wild, but with the talent gap elsewhere on the ice it would make little difference in propelling them to a series win over the Blackhawks. In any case, we may never find out as long as Harding is healthy and playing well.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.