Josh Harding will start in goal again for the Minnesota Wild in tonight's Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals. And this time, Harding has had plenty of time to think about it.
Pressed into service just 15 minutes before Game 1 when starter Niklas Backstrom suffered a lower-body injury in warmups, Harding was stellar for the Wild, making 35 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss. Harding has been preparing for the last two days as the expected starter in Game 2, and Wild coach Mike Yeo expects him to carry the confidence from Game 1 into tonight's game.
"I'd sure like to hope so," Yeo said. "For him, there was a lot of positives to take out of the game. And as much as anything else, it's the confidence of going out and playing well in a game like that, but also for a guy who's missed a lot of hockey -- it's not like he hasn't played good hockey before, he's played good hockey -- and hopefully it's kind of a statement to himself that, 'I'm getting my game.'"
Backstrom actually flew to Chicago Thursday night on his own, not on the team charter. Yeo said that was the plan all along, but didn't say why. Backstrom was on the ice at Friday's morning skate, but was sharing a net with call-up Darcy Kuemper.
Yeo said he hasn't talked much with Harding to gauge his mental state after being thrust into the spotlight so suddenly.
"I try not to talk too much to the goalies," Yeo said. "[Goalie coach] Bob Mason's got a great relationship with those guys. ... It should be just like any other gameday for him. And I haven't felt i needed to [talk to him]. He looks poised and focused and confident. Certainly there's butterflies, I'm sure, and I'm sure their goalie's feeling the same thing."
As for the Hawks, they didn't seem too concerned with which Wild goalie was playing. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said the only scouting report that mattered was that Harding's a lefty and Backstrom's a righty.
"As a player, as a shooter, I don't really care who's in net," Patrick Sharp said. "Both those guys are quality goalies who are going to make saves if they see the puck. The game plan for guys like us is always the same -- get to the net, and try to bang one home."
"I don't think they're going to change their game or try to shoot at different locations at the net," he said. "They're going to try to shoot pucks as quickly and frequently as possible and try to get bodies to the net as many times as they can. And that's pretty much the same game plan we have."
NOTEWORTHY: Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner, who was injured by an Andrew Shaw hit early in Game 1, is out tonight, too. So is forward Jason Pominville (concussion). Hawks goalie Ray Emery and center Dave Bolland were ruled out for Game 2 on Thursday by Quenneville, but both could make the trip to Minnesota for Sunday's Game 3 and Tuesday's Game 4.