The Minnesota Wild have put together a three-game winning streak behind the outstanding play of their backup goaltender.
That may prompt coach Jacques Lemaire to continue using Josh Harding on Thursday night when the Wild host the New York Rangers for the first time in more than four years.
It seems very possible the Wild (19-12-2) will start the 23-year-old Harding in goal again after he backstopped them to three straight wins while posting a 1.67 goals-against average. His increased playing time came after starter Niklas Backstrom was sidelined by an illness.
Even with Backstrom healthy again, Lemaire could again turn to Harding, who made 30 saves in Tuesday's 3-2 comeback win over Nashville.
The move could create a controversy for Minnesota, which saw Backstrom break out with a 28-8-6 record and a league-leading 1.97 GAA as a rookie last season. Backstrom, though, has lost two of his last three starts while recording a 2.67 GAA, and he has not played since allowing all four goals on 30 shots in a 4-1 loss at San Jose on Dec. 11.
The 38th overall selection in the 2002 draft, Harding appeared in only 10 games over the previous two seasons but already has played 14 in 2007-08, going 6-6-2 with a 2.63 GAA and a shutout.
Harding stopped all 16 shots he faced in the third period Tuesday as the Wild overcame a 2-0 deficit behind goals from Marian Gaborik, Eric Belanger and Brian Rolston.
"We're playing good hockey," Wild right wing Mark Parrish said. "It's good to see the character and the never say die attitude we've got going right now. Going into the period down two goals and everybody was positive in here. We knew we had to just keep playing the way we were and keep throwing pucks, even throw more pucks at the net."
New York doesn't have the same issues in net. The Rangers are led by Henrik Lundqvist, who is second in the NHL with a 1.98 GAA and tied for the league lead with six shutouts.
He needed only 18 saves Tuesday in a 4-0 win over Pittsburgh for his second shutout in three games.
Only one of Lundqvist's shutouts have come on the road, where he is 5-5-2 with a 2.38 GAA compared to 11-6-0 with a 1.68 GAA at home. His only career start against Minnesota came in these teams' last matchup at Madison Square Garden, making 22 saves in a 3-1 win on Dec. 5, 2005.
The Rangers have not played in Minnesota since a 5-3 loss on Oct. 10, 2003. New York has scored at least three goals in all eight meetings between these teams, winning six.
Scott Gomez, the Rangers' leader with 27 points, is looking to build on his first two-goal performance for New York. The center has three goals and five assists over the last six games. He has no goals and seven assists in seven career games against Minnesota.
Rolston has been hot for Minnesota, with three goals and two assists during the team's three-game win streak.