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Josh Harding elevating Minnesota Wild to contender status

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You won’t see a team win the Stanley Cup without some strong goaltending. The Minnesota Wild are receiving this very necessary ingredient from Josh Harding right now and if Niklas Backstrom can find his groove then the rotation could boost this team to new heights.

Heading into the season, Backstrom was considered the No. 1 goalie in Minnesota. There had been some rumblings about the team seeking some outside help, but they ended up going back to the oft-injured Backstrom. He’s only started in five contests though, as Harding has been impossible to bench since taking over for the (shockingly) injured Backstrom earlier in the year.

Harding is the NHL’s leader in both GAA and save percentage, but at some juncture he’ll need a rest. If Minnesota can figure out a way to get a more platoon-like system going that allows both goalies to be kept fresh down the stretch, then the Wild could be a very dangerous team once the playoffs roll around.

Of course they’ll need to get there first, but their goaltending has been a source of strength this season despite the fact that is was sort of a question mark as training camp got rolling. Michael Russo of the Minnesota Star-Tribune talked to coach Mike Yeo about the desire to get both goalies into some sort of rhythm:

Hards has forced us to keep going here. There’s no question that I do want to get Backy in there, especially that game that he played in Chicago, I thought he was outstanding in that game and would like to get him playing at that level consistency. We’re a better team if we have both guys going and we’re going to need both guys. At the same time, when you’ve got a hot guy, it’s hard not to ride him, too.

The Wild have won their last three games and are hot on the trail of the Chicago Blackhawks for second place in the Central Division. Only three points separates Minnesota from the league-leading Colorado Avalanche right now, so maintaining a high level of play from at least one netminder is paramount at this juncture.

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