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Backstrom In Against A "Hungry" Toronto Team

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

While breaks are always a nice way to unwind and take your mind off things, they must come to an end. And it’s about time; the Lighthouse was getting restless.

If you haven’t already heard, or haven’t checked out today’s game preview, Niklas Backstrom will get the start in net tonight, while Clayton Stoner will return the lineup after missing a game. Tonight will mark Backstrom’s first start since Oct. 28 against Chicago. Head Coach Mike Yeo has indicated for quite some time that he would get Backstrom in a game soon, but with the way Josh Harding has played so far this season, it’s been difficult to sit him.

Well, the opportunity arose today. With an optional morning skate, Harding was missing after feeling unwell last night — ultimately giving way to Backstrom in net. Harding will still backup tonight.

Harding’s play has been an interesting topic all season. It’s not uncommon to hear someone ask about him on a daily basis — especially when visiting media is present. And it’s not just his play that’s asked about. Undoubtedly, his battle with MS is brought up in conjunction with the outstanding numbers he’s posted so far this season.

Today was no different, even after Yeo confirmed Backstrom will be between the pipes tonight. But while he’s often repeated himself on the goaltender — talking about the opportunity he was given and the consistency he’s had — today he said something a little different.

“He doesn’t want us to talk about it, but with what he’s had to deal with the last couple of years, I think that’s he’s kind of brought a fighter’s attitude that’s he’s had to have off the ice and he’s brought it to his game and the way he prepares everyday,” Yeo said. “Obviously we’ve seen the effect that that’s had.”

It was one of the first times Yeo has ever really drawn a connection between Harding’s very public personal life and his play. Though yesterday, Yeo also said that if he wasn’t asked about Harding’s battle with MS on a day-to-day basis, he’d probably forget about it. When you’re around the team everyday, working with them, it’s really not something that constantly crosses your mind. Obviously it’s a story line that won’t go away any time soon, even on days when’s he not in the lineup, but it’s a story that is also evolving away from him being the goaltender with MS.

With that said, time to look at tonight. The Wild host the Toronto Maple Leafs. The two have already faced off this season in Toronto where the Leafs upended the Wild 4-1. But what actually happened in the game was the complete opposite of the lopsided score. The Wild drilled goaltender James Reimer with 37 shots, but only beat him on one occasion.

After morning skate, Nino Niederreiter mentioned the Wild need to play the same way it did last time, but just finish and put the puck in the net. If Minnesota can manage that, it should be fine.

Like the Wild, the Leafs are coming off a three-day break from game action, but where the Wild won Saturday in Carolina, Toronto dropped a 3-1 decision in Boston.

Regardless of recent history, the Wild are expecting a tough matchup tonight, knowing the Leafs are going to come out hard and hungry. The Leafs are 5-4-0 on the road this year, dropping its last two road games, but are 11-6-0 overall. That being said, home ice has been exceptionally kind to the Wild this season where it is 7-1-2.

If you are one of the lucky ones attending the game tonight, the Wild is hosting the 7th Annual Second Harvest Heartland Food and Fund Drive, Presented by Toyota. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and/or monetary donations to the game. Second Harvest volunteers will be collecting donations at Gates 1-4 from gate open to the middle of the first period.

If you’ll be taking in all the fun from Xcel Energy Center from the comfort of your own living room, remember tonight’s game is on FSN Plus. Fans can check out the channel guide here to tune to the right channel.

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