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Minnesota's Backstrom to miss 2-4 weeks

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- Minnesota Wild starting goalie Niklas Backstrom has a groin strain that will keep him out of action anywhere from two to four weeks.

There is a little more than a month remaining in the regular season, so Backstrom could miss the rest of the regular season if it takes closer to the four-week prognosis or longer. Minnesota came into Friday's action sitting fourth in the Northwest Division and 12th in the Western Conference -- but was just five points away from the eighth and final playoff spot.

Josh Harding, who stepped in when Backstrom was injured 2:52 into Thursday's 5-4 shootout loss at Montreal, will play Friday in Detroit. Minnesota recalled rookie Matt Hackett from its AHL affiliate in Houston to serve as backup.

"It's a tough one for us," coach Mike Yeo said prior to Friday night's game against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m.). "Fortunately for us, we have two guys who've proven themselves. Obviously, [Hackett] doesn't have as much experience, but he's done a good job for us, so we're lucky to have him and [Harding]. This certainly could be a good opportunity for him here."

Harding carries a 9-9-4 record into the game against the Wings, with a 2.61 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. Backstrom is 17-17-6 with a 2.44 GAA and .920 save percentage.
The diagnosis was made after Backstrom underwent an MRI on Friday.

"It's a strain," Yeo said. "There's no issue with his hip or anything like that. I'm not really good with a lot of this stuff, but it's my understanding that it's not as bad as some of the groin strains can be."

Does Yeo think the stroke of bad luck will cost Minnesota its starting goalie for the final push to grab a playoff spot?

"Obviously we don't have a lot of time left here in the regular season," the first-year head coach said. "If it's two weeks, then no. If it's four weeks, then that obviously makes a big difference."

Yeo said he's still working out a system to determine how many starts Harding will get until Backstrom returns. Hackett figures to get some playing time -- he was 2-0-0 during four appearances earlier this season and has a goals-against average of 0.68 and a .979 save percentage.

"This news is still really fresh to us, so we're just going to go into the skate tonight [with Harding]," Yeo said. "We always have a bit of a plan in place, but a lot of it is also very subject to change based on what we're seeing on a night-to-night basis."

What was the plan on Thursday night had Harding also been hurt -- leaving the Wild without a dressed goaltender?

"Don't ask that," he said. "We were still trying to figure it out to be honest with you. I didn't want to sit there and start asking players who had played goalie back in pee wee hockey. We didn't have much of a plan. The plan was to protect [Harding] really well."

Another bit of good news is the schedule, which is largely friendly the rest of the way.

"We've got a lot of time in between [games], not a lot of back-to-backs," Yeo said.

Minnesota defeated the Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena 2-1 in overtime on Nov. 1, with Harding picking up the win. Harding has actually started all three of the first games against Detroit this season, winning two, and has allowed just four goals on 114 shots.

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