It’s time to start yet another chapter in the Minnesota Wild’s goaltending saga. With four goalies already having seen significant time and seven that have dressed for the NHL club, we may again see a shifting of the guard just games before the playoffs. Fortunately, the crease may be filled by a familiar face in Josh Harding after battling an ailing condition.
Josh Harding returned to practice in full pads Wednesday for the first time in over two months. Harding’s last presence in a game was all the way back in 2013 when he faced the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 31. He rejoins a fold that includes Ilya Bryzgalov, the Wild’s recent starter, and Darcy Kuemper, who is currently sidelined and listed as day-to-day.
The question now becomes this. Assuming the Wild make the playoffs and Harding is ready to go, who should man the crease in the first round? Both Bryzgalov and Kuemper have been average at best of late and, quite frankly, average is not going to get this team anywhere in the playoffs. Josh Harding has to be the guy moving forward if he is capable of playing.
Josh Harding was the first-half MVP for the team and the reason for its early success. Early conversations for the Vezina trophy had Harding at or near the top of the list and he was even mentioned as a Canadian Olympic team candidate. He was nearly unbeatable leading up to his complications with multiple sclerosis. If there is any chance that he can regain the red-hot form he possessed prior to the injury, he should be between the pipes for the playoffs.
It’s no secret. The Wild will be faced with a difficult series in the first round of the playoffs. Whether it’s Anaheim, San Jose or St. Louis, the Wild will be outmatched offensively. Goalie will be the most important aspect if Minnesota is going to upset anybody and make a run. Josh Harding has already proven that he is capable of catching fire by posting a 1.65 GAA and .933 save percentage leading up to his injury. A Herculean performance like that is the only way Minnesota advances beyond the first round.
Of course, Harding’s availability for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs is unknown at this point. If he is unable to go, the question becomes even more difficult. If Harding is unable to go, the final six games of the season will reveal whether Bryzgalov or Kuemper should be between the pipes. Bryzgalov has been the most recent starter, but has been shaky since joining the Wild prior to the trade deadline. Kuemper is injured at the moment, but has proven he can handle the workload of an everyday goalie. Either way, without Josh Harding and his ability to get into a consistent rhythm, the Minnesota Wild will yet again be the victim of a first round playoff exit.