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Wild confident Harding can stay sharp

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO – The Minnesota Wild hope to even their Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night at United Center (9:30 pm E.T., NBCSN, CBC, CSN-CH, FS-N) but won't have starting goalie Niklas Backstrom or defenseman Clayton Stoner.

Backstrom will miss his second straight game after incurring a lower-body injury in warmups prior to Game 1 on Tuesday, and Stoner is out with an unspecified injury that happened early in the first period of the series opener on a big hit by Chicago's Andrew Shaw.

Josh Harding, who played well when pressed into service at the last second because of Backstom's injury, will get the start again. Justin Falk will enter Minnesota’s lineup in place of Stoner. Before Tuesday's games, Harding hadn't made an NHL start since Jan. 30, when he played at home against the Blackhawks and got pulled in the first period after allowing two goals on four shots.

After making 35 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 1 on Tuesday, Harding is looking to have another strong performance Friday night.

"I'd sure like to hope so," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "For him, there are a lot of positives to take out of the game, and I think as much as anything else, it's the confidence of going out and playing well in a game like that. For a guy who's missed a lot of hockey, he's played good hockey and it's just kind of a statement to himself that, 'I'm getting my game [back].'"

Yeo will look to 6-foot-5, 215-pound Falk to bring more of a physical presence after Minnesota was outhit by Chicago 40-36 in the series opener. Falk didn't play in Game 1 after being the odd man out when Marco Scandella was called up from the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League on Monday and inserted into the starting lineup.

"[Falk] actually has played some good hockey," Yeo said. "The one thing with a guy like Justin is it’s nice to insert him into a place where we feel we can give him a good chance to succeed. You'll see him out there against more of their third and fourth lines, bigger lines [that are] a little bit more physical.

"That's the game he should be playing. He can defend well, he can skate well, but obviously with his size we’re looking to bring a physical element to the game."

Chicago ruled out goalie Ray Emery and center Dave Bolland on Thursday because of lower-body injuries. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Friday’s morning skate he’d like to see his team start with a better pace and turn up the heat on Harding more than he saw Tuesday.

As for a preference as to which goalie the Blackhawks would rather face, Quenneville said there isn't one.

"My best scouting report is, 'One’s a righty and [one's] a lefty.' That's the differential," he said. "They're both capable. They've both played and played meaningful games. No matter who's in the net, we've got a lot of respect for what they’re capable of, but I think we've got to make it tougher on them."

Here are the projected lineups for Friday's contest between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks:


Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Jason Zucker - Matt Cullen - Devin Setoguchi

Cal ClutterbuckKyle BrodziakPierre-Marc Bouchard

Mike Rupp - Zenon Konopka - Torrey Mitchell

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk - Tom Gilbert

Josh Harding

Darcy Kuemper

Scratched: Nate Prosser, Brett Clark

Injured: Dany Heatley (shoulder, out for season), Jason Pominville (upper-body, day-to-day), Niklas Backstrom (lower-body, day-to-day), Clayton Stoner (unspecified, day-to-day)


Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Patrick SharpMichal HandzusPatrick Kane

Bryan BickellAndrew ShawViktor Stalberg

Brandon BolligMarcus KrugerMichael Frolik

Duncan KeithNiklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy – Brent Seabook

Johnny OduyaMichal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Henrik Karlsson

Scratched: Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Ben Smith, Sheldon Brookbank, Ryan Stanton.

Injured: Ray Emery (day-to-day, lower body), Dave Bolland (day-to-day, lower body)

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