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 back at the rink, back on the ice

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild pregame skate Updated: March 11, 2014 - 11:53 AM

Josh Harding, who still technically leads the NHL with a 1.65 goals-against average and is second with a .933 save percentage, took the ice at Xcel Energy Center this morning for the first time since January.

Harding, who hasn’t started since Dec. 31 because of the effects of multiple sclerosis, has been feeling much better in recent days.

“I saw him this morning, and I can’t say that I have a plan right now,” coach Mike Yeo said.  “The first step was just to see him at the rink and I know he was here last game and I had heard how much better he was doing. And when I got a chance to talk to him this morning, you could see it. You could see it in his face, you could see the relief. You could just see he’s in a much better place right now. I think it’s great. It’s great to have him around. The next step is getting him on the ice and talk more about what the plan is. We haven’t discussed that.”

Harding, indisputably the Wild’s first-half MVP with an 18-7-3 record, had an adjustment to his treatment after beating Vancouver on Dec. 17. He missed the Wild’s four-game road trip and returned to start two games Dec. 29 against the Islanders and Dec. 31 against the Blues.

He missed the next smattering of games, came back to practice, but then had to leave again because he wasn’t feeling well. He has missed the past 22 games.

Obviously, Harding taking the ice is a great sign, but obviously there’s a long road yet to getting back into a game. Still, outstanding news that Harding is feeling better.

Also, Niklas Backstrom, one week after being “shut down” by GM Chuck Fletcher, skated today in pads with Harding. Apparently, this is part of Backstrom’s treatment plan from a Toronto specialist.

So, is Backstrom shut down?

“I don’t know with Backy,” Yeo said, laughing. “We don’t want to shut him down because you never know, he might all of a sudden come back and feel great. We don’t have a plan there. I know that he’s still not feeling great, so he’s going out there and keeping sharp just in case he can come back.”

Darcy Kuemper vs. Viktor Fasth (Oilers debut and first game since Nov. 18) tonight against the Edmonton Oilers.

Clayton Stoner, Justin Fontaine and Mike Rupp will be scratched for Minnesota. Oscar Klefbom will make his NHL debut for Edmonton.

Matt Cooke will skate in his 1,000th game and I’ll return soon with his thoughts.

I will be hosting a live chat at startribune.com at 2 p.m.

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