Josh Harding has played so startlingly well this season that it's easy to forget he was the No. 2 goalie coming into the year for the Wild.
Without his league-leading 1.51 goals against average, the Wild very likely would be buried in the standings. Instead, they are right in the playoff race.
And now we are going to get a glimpse of life without Harding, who is undergoing a minor adjustment in his treatment for multiple sclerosis. The great news across the board -- piled onto the fact that Harding is able to play at such a high level in the first place -- is that this sounds like a minor, planned thing. If all goes according to what the Wild say, Harding is expected back Dec. 27 against Winnipeg.
The Wild faces the Penguins, Rangers and Flyers -- three road games in five days -- leading up to their holiday break, which is followed by that Jets game and Harding's expected return. The Wild can ill-afford a major slip-up on this trip, and adding to its point total in the absence of Harding is essential in the crowded Western Conference.
That basically means this: It's time for Niklas Backstrom, the No. 1 goalie heading into the season and for the past several before it, to step up. The veteran, who will turn 36 in February, signed a 3-year deal this past offseason worth more than $10 million total.
He had offseason sports hernia surgery and has battled numerous other ailments while posting numbers that, over the span of a full season, would be career lows. He has a 2-5-2 record, a goals against average of 2.93 and a save percentage of .900.
That goals against average ranks 36th in the NHL; Harding's, of course, ranks No. 1. Plain and simple, a team that seems to win a lot of games 2-1 and 3-2 needs the stingy old Backstrom to emerge in these next three games -- and quite possibly more down the stretch to give Harding more breaks.