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Harding earns second win

by Brian Compton
Josh Harding's second win of the season was a long time coming, and boy, did he ever earn it.

Harding made 44 saves on Sunday night for his first victory since Nov. 29, as the Minnesota Wild eked out a 2-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. The loss snapped Chicago's four-game winning streak.

''I think I've played well enough most games, but I wanted to show everybody I could play well enough to win,'' said Harding, who was 1-7-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. ''It's getting that win that's important.''

Harding, 3-1 lifetime against Chicago, got the call from Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire after Niklas Backstrom made 35 saves in a 5-2 win against Detroit on Saturday night in Minnesota. Harding stopped all 18 shots he faced in the opening period on Sunday.

''He was good,'' Lemaire said. ''We had a lot of scoring chances against us. Some of the saves he made, I don't know how he made them, but he made them. That's the bottom line.''

Peter Olvecky picked a heck of a time to score his first NHL goal, as he broke a 1-1 tie 3:30 into the third period. Playing in his 11th career game, Olvecky fooled Cristobal Huet with a low shot from the left circle.

''I just closed my eyes and shot,'' Olvecky said.

Jonathan Toews scored Chicago's lone goal at 10:03 of the second period, which gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead and came on their 26th shot. After the Wild were able to kill off 4:18 of consecutive power-play time, Toews took a pretty feed from Martin Havlat and fired it past Harding for his 22nd goal of the season. Minnesota killed all eight of Chicago's power plays.

''It was one of those nights the puck didn't go in for us,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ''We had some great looks, but Harding had a special night.''

Less than three minutes later, Dan Fritsche tied the game for the Wild with a power-play goal. After James Wisniewski was whistled for holding the stick, Fritsche redirected Pierre-Marc Bouchard's shot from the top of the slot. The puck struck Fritsche's stick, ruled to be at crossbar height, and caromed downward past Huet.

''I wasn't sure if it would be allowed,'' Fritsche said. ''It was on the borderline. It was a big break for us.''

While Fritsche was happy to contribute, he knew who the No. 1 star was on Sunday night.

''After he just kept making great save after great save, we just wanted to get the two points,'' Fritsche said. ''Not just for us, but for that guy.''

Harding continued his brilliance in the third period, which saw him make 15 saves. He robbed Dustin Byfuglien in the final seconds to preserve a well-deserved victory.

''We outshot them and had more chances,'' Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We didn't get outplayed. He (Harding) made some nice saves."

The blemish on Minnesota's night was the loss of veteran forward Owen Nolan, who suffered a lower-body injury in the second period and did not return. The Wild will host the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

''It doesn't look good,'' Lemaire said. ''We might have to call someone up.''

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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