Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 12/21/11
CALGARY -- The Minnesota Wild have spent most of December as the NHL's top team and still are sitting at the top of the Northwest Division without anyone on their roster lighting it up offensively. Take a look at the top 30 scorers in the NHL, and not one Wild player is on that list. Take a look at the top 30 scoring defenseman, and not one Wild player is on that list. There is an old saying in the real estate business that goes, "location, location, location" and in hockey it can be changed to "goaltending, goaltending, goaltending. If youre looking for the secret to the Wild's surprising success, on most nights it has more to do with the guy stopping the goals than the ones scoring them. Niklas Backstrom is back in form, flashing the skills that made him a 2009 Vezina Trophy finalist. Backstrom, 33, is 11-7-4 with a 2.15 GAA and a .930 save percentage. "Nik has been terrific for us all season, and the best aspect of his game is that he seems to have a calming effect on our team in every situation, first-year coach Mike Yeo said. To me, having that type of leader in the net is important for a young team like ours." Josh Harding, 27, may be Backstoms backup, but his numbers don't read like those of an understudy. He is 7-3-1 with a 2.13 GAA and a .932 save percentage. "Josh plays a completely different style from Nik, but his athletic ability is tremendous, Yeo said. He loves to compete, and he has been brilliant all season for us." Two weeks ago, Harding suffered a serious whiplash injury while Backstrom was dealing with a pesky lower-body issue, so 21-year-old Matt Hackett got the call from Houston of the AHL. Hackett was a key to Yeo's Aeros making a run to the Calder Cup Finals last spring, and he made the transition to the NHL look seamless. In two games for the Wild, including one in relief of Harding, Hackett went 2-0 with a 1.01 GAA and a crazy-good .974 save percentage. The Wild rank fourth in the NHL in goals allowed per game, and Yeo knows goaltending is the main reason. "We have suffered through so many key injuries up front lately, and those three guys have been the glue for this team all season," he said. "It is a real luxury for our team to have such good goaltending. We feel like no matter what happens if we stick to our game each night we are going to win, and the biggest reason for that is our goaltending." The Wild are 19-3-1 when they allow two or fewer goals and 1-7-4 when they yield three or more goals. With scoring stars like Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, and Guillaume Latendresse still dealing with injuries, there is extra pressure on everyone to keep the Wild in the hunt until they get back to full strength. "We all are feeling the pressure right now because we are missing so many great players, Wild forward Matt Cullen said. The one thing we know we can always rely on is our goaltending -- these guys have been awesome for us all season." Backstrom remains the clear No. 1, but both Harding and Hackett have earned NHL honors as one of the "Three Stars of the Week" this season. Behind Hackett in Houston is the well-regarded Darcy Kuemper, who recently was named AHL Player of the Week while Hackett was with Minnesota. And finally, with the World Junior Championships getting underway next week in Canada, keep an eye on youngster Johan Gustafson of Sweden. The organization is high on his ability and upside for the future. If goaltending is truly the cornerstone of a strong franchise, expect the Wilds surprising season to turn into a sustained annual run of success.
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