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Harding plays well after subbing for Backstrom

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO – It happened before the puck officially dropped on this Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.

Josh Harding
Goalie - MIN
GAA: 1.56 | SVP: 0.946
While going through pregame warm-ups at United Center, Minnesota starting goalie Niklas Backstrom left the ice after appearing to stretch awkwardly to collect a rebound of a shot by a teammate.

He soon was scratched and replaced by backup Josh Harding – who'd only played in five games for the Wild during the regular season while missing more than two months dealing with effects of multiple sclerosis.

Chicago won 2-1 late in overtime on a goal by Bryan Bickell and Harding was splendid, but afterward there wasn't much information released about Backstrom – other than he suffered a lower-body injury.

"Don't have much of an update for you," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. "Lower body. [I was] pretty much getting ready to pull up the lineup and post the lineup and sure enough … find out that he's not suited to go. So, that was a bit of a curveball, to say the least."

Harding was caught a little off-guard, as well. He still managed to get focused quickly and made 35 saves – including a number to stop good scoring chances for the Blackhawks that could've ended the game a lot earlier.

"I just figured that I was in if I took the rest of the warm-up and prepared like I was playing," said Harding, who declined to speak about his personal-health battle. "I prepared like I should've. Obviously, we would've liked a better outcome, but we definitely put up a fight tonight and we're going to come back, put the work boots on [Wednesday] and get better [Wednesday]."

The Wild flew back to Minnesota and will practice there for Game 2 on Friday in Chicago. That's also where more information should be disseminated about the extent of Backstrom's injury and how long it might sideline him.

Backstrom tied for the League lead with 24 wins and would be seen as a huge loss for the Wild, should he not be able to play in this series. If he's not ready by Friday, Minnesota might have to call up Darcy Kuemper from the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League to sit on the bench as Harding's backup.

Houston is currently in Grand Rapids in the AHL playoffs, which is a short flight or manageable drive away from Chicago. There was no time to get Kuemper here in time for Tuesday's game, however, so Harding had no designated backup.

Had he gotten hurt, NHL rules allow for a team to find an emergency goalie from somewhere – likely one of the skaters. Harding, meanwhile, isn't dwelling on Bickell's goal – which capped a 2-on-1 rush at 16:35 of OT to end a thrilling series opener.

"[Wednesday] is a new day," Harding said. "I take the positives out of this game and forget about the negatives and go from there."

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