Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Josh Harding joins Wild in Chicago, practices for the first time since January

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild practice Updated: April 2, 2014 - 5:40 PM

Afternoon from Johnny's Ice House West in Chicago, the practice facility of the Blackhawks.

The Wild practiced today with three goalies -- Thursday's starter Ilya Bryzgalov, Thursday's backup John Curry and ... first-half MVP Josh Harding.

Harding, sidelined since Dec. 31 from complications of multiple sclerosis, joined the Wild in Chicago and is practicing with the team for the first time since Jan. 19.

If you remember, he missed the Wild's four-game road trip to Pittsburgh, New York, Philly and Winnipeg to have an adjustment to his MS treatment. He returned to play two games Dec. 29 and Dec. 31 before being sidelined again. He then returned to practice with the team but then was sidelined for good starting Jan. 20.

Harding would only say he had a "rough patch" that was out of his control.

“This isn’t the time [to talk about it],” Harding said. “We’re in a playoff crunch. If I could’ve been out there, I would've been out there. It's tough, it was tough.”

You can read more about Harding's return in Thursday's paper. He looked good today, but this is obviously a first step.

“I know that he doesn’t want us really talking about [his MS], but the reality is it’s always going to be day-to-day, basically,” coach Mike Yeo said. “But he’s feeling very good right now and he’s motivated.”

With Darcy Kuemper out with an upper-body injury, Harding's return is obviously great news (great news for reasons beyond hockey, too).

This is getting way ahead of ourselves, but no chance Harding is able to return without an eventual conditioning stint in Iowa, and this is provided things continue to go well after a number of days of practice.

The Baby Wild has nine games left this season.But as Yeo said, everything is day-to-day right now.

Christian Folinalso joined practice today. Kuemper and Mikael Granlund did not practice. Nino Niederreiter did and is expected to play.

Today's lines:

Parise-Koivu-Coyle

Moulson-Haula-Pominville

Cooke-Brodziak-Fontaine

Veilleux-Dowell-Niederreiter

Scratches appear to be Heatley for a third game in a row, McCormick, Rupp. Yeo basically said that in the Wild's eyes, McCormick's not a center, so that's the reason for the Dowell callup.

D pairs remain the same:

Suter-Spurgeon

Brodin-Prosser

Scandella-Blum

Ballard looks like he'll continue to wait with the Wild having won two in a row.

Goalies

Bryzgalov

Curry (Curry's jersey assigned was No. 30 when he came on the Edmonton, Vancouver trip in late February. The Wild has since acquired Bryzgalov, so Curry will wear No. 33 tomorrow. That means two different Wild backups (Rob Laurie) will wear the same number in consecutive games, which is par for the course with the Wild, which has had seven goalies up with the big team this season).

PP units:

Parise-Koivu-Moulson-Suter-Pominville; Nino-Coyle-Fontaine-Brodin-Spurgeon.

Officially, Granlund has an upper-body injury. Unofficially, replays show that Granlund’s head smacked into the left shoulder of Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll on Monday as Granlund tried to deliver a check.

Yeo said there’s no timetable until Granlund sees the Wild doctors. Yeo said, “All I know right now” is that Granlund won’t play Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

“We’re losing a very talented player, an offensive guy that we count on,” Yeo said of Granlund, the Wild’s fourth-leading scorer during a solid sophomore campaign with 41 points in 63 games. “In a situation like that, we’re going to lean on our other lines a little bit more, lean on our power play a little bit more.”

Captain Mikko Koivu will continue to get the bulk of the big minutes and matchups. Since March 18, Koivu, is on a six-game point streak, ranks first in the NHL with 10 assists and is tied for first with 12 points.

Rookie center Erik Haula, who led the Gophers in scoring during his sophomore and juniors years, has played a fourth-line role for much of his 40 games with the Wild. Haula, 23, has three goals and nine points, is plus-9 and will assume Granlund’s role between veterans Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville.

Yeo has been impressed with Haula’s ability to adapt to a defensive and penalty-kill role. Now that Haula will skate with two skilled scorers like Moulson (five goals and four assists in 14 games with the Wild) and Pominville (27 goals), Yeo said, “We’re going to ask him to be a little more creative.”

Haula will have to improve in the faceoff circle. That was one of Granlund’s biggest improvements. Granlund won 52.6 percent of his draws; Haula has won 42.7 percent.

“You’re on a line like that, starting with the puck in the offensive zone is a huge key,” Yeo said.

Folin got overshadowed today, so I will write a lot more about him in Friday's paper.

Just as advertised, he was big with a booming shot.

The plan initially is to get him involved in practice, teach him the Wild’s system and allow him to get comfortable. He is eligible to play in any of the remaining six games, but Yeo said the decision will be based on “team-first.”

Folin played two years with Austin (Minn.) in the North American Hockey League and said, “In the back of my head, I always wanted to come [back] to Minnesota.”

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