One of the most pleasant surprises of the NHL season to date is the play of Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding. The career backup has been a huge difference-maker between the pipes for the Wild, off to their best start in franchise history.
Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg, Harding was scheduled to start once again. However, during the warmup, he slipped on a puck and appeared to be in serious discomfort. Harding left the ice surface and was ruled out to play in the game.
That forced Niklas Backstrom into action just a day after he came off the injured reserve stemming from a concussion. The Wild had already reassigned Darcy Kuemper to their AHL affiliate, so no backup goalie was immediately available to the team.
The Wild were able to recall Kuemper, however. Luckily for the team, he was still in Winnipeg and made it back to the MTS Centre to back up Backstrom after the game had already started.
After the game against the Jets, the focus will turn to Harding and his health. The big netminder has been among the league's best in every category. He has a 13-3-2 record, .939 save percentage and 1.48 goals-against average, all well above his career bests.
Though Backstrom was the team's primary starter coming into the year, he has really been battling some poor luck with injuries of late.
With the Central looking like one of the league's toughest divisions and the West a huge pressure cooker overall, the Wild really don't want to be without their primary goaltender who has been riding the hottest stretch of his career for any amount of time.
This also could disrrupt Harding in the middle of the best stretch of his career. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, something Harding has chosen not to talk about during the season, he's become as much an inspirational story as he is an improbable one.
Warmups have been dangerous for goalies of late. Friday night, Ducks netminder Viktor Fasth was due to start against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but ended up getting injured during just prior to the game. Jonas Hiller earned a shutout in his unexpected start for Anaheim.
We'll provide an update as soon as one becomes available.