There was some wacky and wild goalie drama at today’s pregame skate for tonight’s must-win Game 5 of the Western Conference quarters against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Josh Harding, who left Game 4 after the first period with a lower-body injury, had one cage. Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper shared the other.
That was a clear indication that Harding was starting. Next, Harding took shots from the D toward the tail end of the skate. That usually cinches who is starting.
But slowly but surely, it became clearer that Harding was laboring. As Harding took shots, head coach Mike Yeo and goalie Bob Mason were talking and watching Harding. Suddenly, they turned and began watching Backstrom at the other end of the United Center’s rink. He, too, looked to be having bigtime trouble pushing off.
Yeo and Mason turned back and watched Harding. Harding skated over, began chatting with them. Finally, Yeo skated over to Backstrom and had a long conversation with him.
The final decision? Harding will start tonight with Kuemper backing up.
Why Harding? “We don’t know how he feels, but you have to trust him, and he says that he is good to go and there was absolutely no doubt about it, so that’s what we were looking for,” Yeo said.
On the crazy goalie drama, Yeo said, smiling, “You don’t know what we were talking about. I think we might have been talking about what we were having for lunch today.”
Yeo then turned serious and said, “This is what we’ve been dealt, but we were able to figure it out and now we should push all that stuff behind us. Bottom line is we’ve got 20 guys going into the game. No excuses whatsoever on our part. You’re in the lineup, you’re there for a reason, and we’ve got a group that is more than capable of winning this hockey game tonight.”
Defenseman Ryan Suter has never seen anything like the Wild’s postseason goalie situation, saying, “It’s too bad you have to deal with that. There’s so many distractions already. For us, we know whoever’s in net, we have to play hard and play our best if we want to win this game tonight. That’s been our attitude all year. It’s just someone different in net. Obviously it’s not Backy, who’s been there all year. Whoever it is, we have to go out and defend well and play in the offensive zone.”
Zach Parise said, laughing, “Honestly I don’t know who’s playing tonight.”
The Blackhawks expect the Wild’s best game. Yeo said, “If we can win this game, obviously we’d still be behind, some of the pressure would shift. We have to have a good focus of how to make that happen.”
Yeo noted that the Wild has been in similar situations. “Game 3, we knew without a doubt we had to win that game, and we played our best game of the series. Game 48, we knew we had to win that hockey game and we were able to go out and perform. Hopefully we can draw upon that.”
Yeo said, “3-1 is daunting. Tonight’s game is not necessarily that daunting.”
The reason, he says, is because even though the Wild’s execution last game wasn’t great, the Wild easily could have won that game. The Wild outchanced the Hawks, outhit them and drew six power plays. “Bottom line we didn’t score and they did. But there are a lot of things that can be taken from the last two games.”
Yeo talked about how great the Hawks have been defensively and how deep they are, saying, “If you would have told us through four games that Jonathan Toews wouldn’t have a point, we probably would have signed up for that pretty quickly. But obviously we still trail 3-1.”
As for lines, Jason Pominville will skate with Kyle Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard – his line that was playing well prior to his getting hurt.
On the fourth line, Stephane Veilleux and Mike Rupp will be game-time decisions. One will play, one won’t, on a line with Torrey Mitchell and Cal Clutterbuck.
“They’re not going to lay over for us, by any means,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “Nobody wants to have their season over. We expect them to come hard and play a tough, tight game.”
Dave Bolland and Ray Emery are both out for the Blackhawks.
Just a real quick FYI, I’m going to be away from the team starting tomorrow for a little bit. I have a family emergency and need to leave town. We have plenty of capable folks to cover the Wild in my absence, and of course, I’ll do my best to keep one eye on the team. But I've got to leave unfortunately.
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