It’s been about a year since Josh Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The Wild goaltender has persevered since and even launched a charity to raise awareness and dollars for those afflicted by the incurable autoimmune disease.
Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center was “Harding’s Hope Night.” Off to a sensational start this season, Harding was en route to another outstanding game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
That was until he was injured while giving up his first goal in more than 100 minutes. Harding gutted through the rest of the second period before Niklas Backstrom, making his first appearance in 16 nights, backstopped the Wild during the final 20 minutes of its 3-1 win.
“The guys battled for us like no one else in the room,” defenseman Clayton Stoner said of Harding. “Backy came in [during] a tough spot [with Carolina on a power play] and he showed us what he can do. We’re confident in both of them, and we’ll just move forward with Backy.”
Coach Mike Yeo didn’t have an update on the severity of Harding’s lower-body injury. After Alex Semin’s power-play goal, Harding was trying to shake off a leg issue the final 14 minutes of the second and earned the victory by stopping 20 of 21 shots.
In nine games since Backstrom strained his right knee Oct. 8, Harding has surrendered eight goals. He has a 1.00 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage.
Backstrom, who said Thursday morning that he wasn’t feeling “normal” yet, stopped all seven shots he saw in the third. Trainers told Backstrom during the second period that it appeared Harding was playing hurt. Backstrom found out with six minutes left in the second intermission that he would need to get ready.
“Sitting for a long time on the bench, it’s tough to be comfortable out there, but the guys helped me a lot,” Backstrom said.
It was a big win for the Wild, especially with a first-round rematch against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on deck in a home-and-home series.
Nino Niederreiter scored his first career power-play goal, Zach Parise scored the eventual winner and Dany Heatley snapped a 10-game goose egg with his first goal of the season on a Matt Cooke gift-wrapped empty-netter.
The 5-3-3 Wild, which has won four in a row at home, caught a break four minutes in when Carolina’s starter, 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward, sustained a lower-body injury. He’ll miss up to a month. Justin Peters, only in uniform because ex-Wild Anton Khudobin is hurt, made his season debut.
The Wild capitalized, scoring on its first two shots against Peters. After Mikko Koivu drew a power play, Mikael Granlund set Niederreiter up with a filthy pass in front. Niederreiter said there was eye contact with Granlund before he roofed his second goal of the season.
Three minutes later, Parise whacked Jared Spurgeon’s rebound off the post out of the air. The goal was Parise’s fifth of the season and ended a five-game drought.
But the Wild took its foot off the gas and took two penalties in the first four minutes of the second period to turn the momentum. Semin scored, and the Wild couldn’t turn the tide the rest of the period. Harding held the fort, though, until Backstrom and the Wild regrouped in the third.
Its blue line did another admirable job, especially with Jonas Brodin sidelined by a broken cheekbone.
“We didn’t have our best game, but at the end of the day, I think we’ve lost some this year that we deserved to win,” Parise said. “Now it’s nice to be on the other side.”