Souhan: Harding fills in amazingly for injured Backstrom

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2013 - 12:01 PM

Josh Harding will go down as the losing goaltender on Tuesday night, but he was the most remarkable player on the ice.

hide

Minnesota Wild's Josh Harding stops a shot by Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane

Photo: Jim Prisching, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Scoreboards don’t grade on a curve.

We can.

We can recognize that while Josh Harding will go down as the losing goaltender in the Wild’s 2-1 loss to Chicago at the United Center on Tuesday night, he was the most remarkable player on the ice.

Three months since his last NHL start, at the end of a season in which he revealed he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, circumstances thrust Harding into a role almost as unusual as that of a convalescing professional hockey player.

Suddenly, people were referring to him as the Wild’s “healthy’’ goaltender.

When Niklas Backstrom collapsed while warming up Tuesday night, Harding, the Wild backup, found himself starting in an NHL game for the first time since Jan. 30, when he allowed two goals on four shots to the Blackhawks and got benched.

He found himself starting in Game 1 of the Wild’s first playoff series since 2008.

Starting in an arena that can leave you deaf even if you keep your nerve.

Starting at the end of a season in which MS forced him to miss a couple of months, leading hockey writers to nominate him for the Masterton Trophy, which honors players who show exemplary perseverance.

Tuesday night, in his first NHL playoff start, he persevered. He stopped 35 of the heavily-favored Blackhawks’ 37 shots, giving the Wild plenty of time to pull an upset before Bryan Bickell slipped the puck past him with 3:25 left in the first overtime.

“It’s pretty remarkable,’’ said teammate Kyle Brodziak. “I don’t even want to begin to guess on the ups and downs he’s had to face in his life.

“Everybody in here is very proud of him and at the same time we’re very confident in his abilities.’’

To admire Harding would have been understandable. To express confidence in him as a playoff goaltender at this point in his career required faith.

“I’m getting ready to post the lineup and sure enough find out that [Backstrom] is not suited to go,’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “It was a bit of a curveball, to say the least. But Josh was phenomenal. We’ve said this before: It’s hard to sit here and paint an accurate picture of what he’s gone through because we have no idea. He’s certainly a guy, for many reasons, that you root for.’’

Harding shunned that kind of attention. He would not talk about his disease.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow and getting better,” he said. “It’s my job to stop the puck, and that’s what I had to do.’’

“Good for him,’’ Yeo said. “I think we should respect that. Even I have to catch myself sometimes when it comes to that. The reality is he’s part of our team and he’s a hockey player and that’s how he wants to be treated.’’

During warm-ups, Backstrom reached for a puck to his right, then rolled over, in pain. Yeo called it a “lower-body’’ injury. It might be a groin, or a knee. Who knows when he will be ready to play?

In that moment, Harding may have been transformed from an inspirational afterthought to the most pivotal player in the series.

Chicago’s goaltender, Corey Crawford, entered the game with a 5-8 postseason record, and gave up the first goal of the game, a harmless-looking wrister by Cal Clutterbuck. Harding gave up two goals he had little chance of stopping. He turned the first game of what was expected to be a lopsided series into one of those dramas that costs hockey fans a lot of sleep.

“Hards is a pretty incredible story,’’ said Wild forward Devin Setoguchi. “I don’t think there’s any other professional athlete playing with MS other than him.’’

Harding shrugged and said, “I felt great.’’

Only he knows whether that’s true.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10-noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Marshall 52 FINAL
Northern Ill 23
Navy 17 FINAL
San Diego St 16
Central Mich 48 FINAL
Western Ky 49
Fresno State 6 FINAL
Rice 30
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 2:30 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close