Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding always has been well-regarded for his skill between the pipes; his only problem has been staying healthy.
After missing all of last season recovering from torn ligaments in his knee, Harding has emerged as the team's top goaltender, and for winning all three of his starts last week -- allowing one goal in each game -- with a 0.99 goals against average and .968 save percentage, Harding was honored as the NHL's First Star of the Week on Monday.
Harding allowed a goal six minutes into Tuesday's game against the Detroit Red Wings, but stopped the other 36 shots the Wings threw at him as the Wild emerged with a 2-1 overtime victory.
Two nights later, he stopped 24 of 25 shots against the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 Wild win, and capped his week with 30-save performance in a 2-1 win against the St. Louis Blues that extended Minnesota's win streak to four straight -- Harding has been in net for all four -- and moved the team to fourth in the Western Conference, and one point behind Edmonton for the Northwest Division lead.
Harding's stellar play puts Wild coach Mike Yeo in a tough but enviable position, with two strong goaltenders. In five games this season, Harding is 4-0-1 and leads the League with a .965 save percentage and is third with a 1.18 GAA, while Niklas Backstrom is 3-3-2 in eight games, with a 2.30 GAA and .912 save percentage.
As a team, the Wild are second in the League allowing just 1.92 goals per game.
Stars forward Loui Eriksson
only played two games last week, but he did enough scoring to earn recognition as Second Star of the Week.
Friday against the Avalanche, he scored a pair of goals, including the winner in overtime, to help the Stars to a wild 7-6 victory. On Sunday, he set up three goals as the Stars started a four-game road trip with a 5-1 win in Carolina. It was the Stars' third straight win and kept them atop the Western Conference, and one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the League.
With 6 points in the two games, it gave Eriksson 8 points in his last four, and he leads the team with 8 goals and 15 points. THIRD STAR
Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom had 2 points in each of the three games he played last week, earning him the Third Star of the Week.
Against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, he jumped on the ice as an extra attacker when goalie Tomas Vokoun was pulled and scored the game-tying goal with 42 seconds left in regulation, and then netted the overtime goal for a 5-4 win.
He had a goal and an assist Friday in a 5-1 win in Carolina, and finished his week by setting up a pair of goals in the Caps' 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Backstrom enters the week with 2 points in four straight games. His 13 assists on the season are tied for the League lead, and his 18 points are tied for third.