Work pays off: Josh Harding to play in Wild net vs. Red Wings

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2011 - 12:56 AM

Josh Harding will be starting for the first time since injuring his knee in a preseason game last year.

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Wild goalie Josh Harding

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Josh Harding found out when he arrived at Xcel Energy Center on Friday morning for practice. Wild coach Mike Yeo told him: This is it.

For the first time in nearly 17 months Harding will start in goal in a regular-season game. This is something Harding has been working for ever since he hurt his knee in a preseason game in St. Louis in September 2010. This has been the goal that kept Harding rehabbing from surgery, lifting weights, skating for hours trying to come back.

"It's just been a long haul, right from the beginning," Harding said. "Whether it's been the rehab, or being in the weight room, or on the ice. It has been a long time coming for this day. And I'm really excited."

Still, there will be butterflies.

"I'm sure as it gets closer to game time they'll be floating around," he said. "But all I can do is stick to my game. I thought in the preseason I looked pretty solid. I know I have a tough matchup. I'm just going to try to help the team win."

The last time Harding played in a regular-season game came in a 6-2 loss in Detroit on March 26, 2010. That wasn't a pleasant night: Harding left that game because of a hip/labrum injury. Five days before that Harding recorded his last victory, a 4-3 triumph over Calgary at Xcel Energy Center.

Then there was the big injury, when he tore two knee ligaments in a season-ending injury at St. Louis on Sept. 24, 2010.

The Wild clearly believed both in his comeback and in his talent to stick with him as the backup to Niklas Backstrom. Now, finally, he gets to start doing just that.

But it's been a while. He last played extensively during the 2009-10 season, appearing in 25 games and starting 22. He was 9-12 with a 3.05 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.

When first asked about Harding starting, Yeo was a bit coy on the subject, grinning as he talked about there being a "very good chance" that Harding would make his debut.

But seriously, Yeo seems eager to see Harding's return to regular-season action.

"I hope he's excited," Yeo said. "I think he had a great training camp. I thought he's looked good in practice. And I think he should feel real confident going into that game."

Etc.

• What was supposed to be a relatively brief practice Friday lasted a bit longer, with players continuing to work after Yeo left the ice. "I liked the focus of our guys," Yeo said.

• Yeo on playing the Red Wings, with their famed puck-control style: "Well, first of all, you don't give it to them," he said.

• Yeo still is looking for more consistent play from the defense. "There have been a couple extended shifts where we start to circle, we start to get away from what we're supposed to do," he said. "And things get a little chaotic at that time."

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