The Minnesota Wild have managed to shrug off a slow start and hang on near the top of an incredibly competitive Central Division that also features the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and the surprising Colorado Avalanche. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom missed a chunk of time earlier this season due to a knee injury, but backup Josh Harding has filled in admirably. Now, after Backstrom suffered an upper-body injury in Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the pressure will be on Harding even more.
Backstrom was injured when Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri crashed into his head in the crease during the first period. Harding came in and turned aside 19 of the 20 shots he faced to help the Wild to a win in the shootout. Harding is now 10-2-2 on the season, and boasts a 1.21 goals-against average that is the best in the league. While staring at his heaviest workload for the Wild in some time, he is playing some of the best hockey of his career and keeping the Wild rolling. There has been little in the way of news on Backstrom so far, but given how hard the hit was he could easily miss at least a week.
The Wild face four games in six days starting Friday, and with a back-to-back mixed in they could turn to Darcy Kuemper for a start as well. With the way Harding has been playing there is no reason to rush Backstrom back until he’s at full strength, especially given his 1-1-2 record and 3.29 goals-against in the games he has played. A high powered offense led by Jason Pominville and Zach Parise will make it easier for whoever is in net, but Harding definitely deserves a tip of the cap for the way he is thriving under pressure so far this season.