Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 12/3/11
ST. PAUL, Minn. Few teams have the 1-2 goaltending punch that the Minnesota Wild has. So, when starting goalie Niklas Backstrom left Friday's game against New Jersey with a "lower body injury," the Wild didn't miss a beat with backup Josh Harding between the pipes. Harding stopped all 22 shots he faced in the game's final two periods to help Minnesota preserve a 4-2 win over the Devils at Xcel Energy Center. Not a bad night at the office, considering Harding came to the rink not expecting to play."It's not easy. The adrenaline takes over," Harding said. "The best thing you can do is go have some fun with it. That's all I did out there, tried to stay calm, tried to stay relaxed and come up with a big save."Harding came up with several big saves Friday as he blanked the visiting Devils for two periods. Minnesota was out-shot 31-16 by New Jersey, but Harding stood tall late in the game to propel the Wild to 26-16-7 and an NHL-best 35 points."He was great tonight," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Harding. "They had some real flurries tonight. They had some real scrambles around our net. He stood tall. That's a good team over there. They played a really good game tonight. We had to earn our two points."Entering Friday's game, Harding and Backstrom were almost mirror images of each other in two statistical categories. Harding had a 2.10 goals-against average in 10 games, while Backstrom's was 2.07 in 17 games. As for save percentages, they were an almost-identical .932 (Backstrom) and .933 (Harding).In each of those two categories, Harding and Backstrom are both in the top 10 among NHL goalies a big reason the Wild are in first place."Backy played well. Hards played well. He came in and we hung on," said Wild forward Dany Heatley, who scored Minnesota's first goal of the night. "We always said earlier, both those guys have been great."One of the Wild's biggest assets this season has been its depth. It was evident again Friday, as center Cody Almond stepped in with Cal Clutterbuck out with an injury. Minnesota's depth in goal, meanwhile, might currently be unparalleled by any other team in the league."That's been really consistent with our team all year," Yeo said of the depth at goalie. "With that, even in that game today, we weren't our best. But there's a feeling on the bench, it's not like we're hanging on by the skin of our teeth here. There's not a sense that we're in extreme danger because we know that those guys are back there and they're playing solid."When we're defending, our guys don't run around and don't panic. We don't chase things that aren't there. Another big reason for that is that we have the confidence that our goaltenders are going to be there when we need them."Yeo said he thought Backstrom's injury occured on New Jersey's first goal of the game, a deflection by Devils captain and Minnesota native Zach Parise. Backstrom also allowed a goal late in the first when Ilya Kovalchuk banked a shot off Wild defenseman Mike Lundin's leg.But Backstrom finished out the first period, making seven saves on nine shots. During the first intermission, goaltending coach Bob Mason told Harding that he would start the second period."Seeing him in the training room, that's where he usually spends his time between periods," Heatley said of Harding. "He got the nod, and the smile kind of goes right off the face and he's ready to go right away. He played great, as he has all year."The Wild now embark on a five-game West Coast road trip, beginning Sunday in Anaheim. If Backstrom isn't ready to go, Harding will again get the nod in net for Minnesota."I'm not too sure what's going on with Backy," Harding said. "Just like tonight, you've got to be ready as a backup goalie whenever they give you the chance to go play."
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