A year ago Josh Harding was rehabbing a badly torn-up knee, an injury he sustained early in the preseason before the 2010-11 season even began, an injury that required surgery and months and months of rehab.
This is the payback, the sweet fruit of all that labor.
Harding, who is quickly becoming the Minnesota Wild's Dr. Detroit, made 36 saves in the Wild's 1-0 victory over slumping Detroit on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
It was his second game since the surgery, both against Detroit. Earlier this month he was in net during an overtime loss to Detroit. Saturday he was perfect, making several spectacular saves while recording his first victory since March 21, 2010. It was his fifth career shutout, his first since Jan. 28, 2010 at Colorado.
"This is a great feeling," said Harding, who has earned three of a possible four points in two games against the Red Wings. Of course, he'll get another shot in Tuesday's rematch in Detroit. Saturday's victory ended a two-game losing streak for the Wild while pushing Detroit's losing streak to an improbable four games.
"This kind of makes all that work pay off," Harding continued. "It was a long road. But now that's behind me. This win, I'll celebrate it tonight. Tomorrow we have to get back to it."
Of course, this victory wasn't just Harding's. In one of the best all-around games the Wild has played this season, the team's young defensemen -- including Saturday call-up Nate Prosser -- were poised and energetic. The Wild penalty kill was strong, and the puck support was there from start to finish. The Wild forwards created chances, especially early.
It was Dany Heatley's first-period goal -- a wicked wrist shot to the far corner over Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard on a 2-on-1 with Guillaume Latendresse -- that proved to be the difference.
Thanks, mainly, to Harding.
"Unbelievable," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "He was great. It's been a baptism by fire [for Harding]. We've given him some tough challenges. The thing about Detroit, as a goalie, is that No. 1, you know you'll see some quality chances. They'll make plays no matter how well you defend. They make it hard on a goalie, with the number of pucks they get on the net, and the traffic. One thing I like about Harding is he fights for his position in front of the net."
The Wild fought for everything Saturday. Coming out strong in the first period, the Wild had the better of the chances, including a handful of 2-on-1s.
Shortly after an apparent goal by Nick Johnson was waved off because it appeared he directed the puck into the net with his left ankle, the Wild scored the only goal of the game when center Mikko Koivu forced a turnover and got the puck up ice to Heatley. He skated in and let it go at 10:51.
After that, one of two things happened. The Wild either got a little defensive or the Red Wings started asserting themselves. Detroit outshot the Wild 26-11 over the final two periods.
But Harding didn't yield. Yeo called it one of the Wild's best games, a sentiment echoed throughout the Wild dressing room. But most of the praise was aimed at Harding, who worked a long time for this.
"I am very happy for him," said Koivu, who has been Harding's teammate for a long time. "With all he's been through the last year or so, I'm sure this is huge for his confidence."