ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild’s goaltending situation appears to have gone from dramatic to dire in very short order.
Josh Harding, diagnosed before this season with multiple sclerosis, provided inspirational play coming on at the start of the Wild’s Western Conference quarterfinal series against the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, after Niklas Backstrom was injured in warm-ups before Game 1 last week.
But Harding could be seen laboring during a Game 3 ultimately won in overtime by the Wild, and after a collision with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews in the first period of Game 4 on Tuesday, Harding got up very gingerly and seemed to be favoring his leg or knee.
He finished the period allowing one goal on six shots but did not come out for the second. Instead, backup Darcy Kuemper -- who had been called up from the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate when Backstrom went down -- came on in relief.
He gave up a soft goal to Patrick Sharp on the first shot he faced, then allowed another weak goal late in the third period to Bryan Bickell as the Wild fell 3-0 and now trail the Blackhawks 3-1 in the series; the potential deciding game is set for Thursday in Chicago.
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said he did not have an update on either Harding or Backstrom, who has been skating in recent days but did not dress as a backup in any game in the series.
Backstrom did, however, appear in the third period in full gear near the Wild bench as though he was the acting backup to Kuemper.
"It was quite a unique situation tonight so, yeah, we’ll update that a little bit more tomorrow,” Yeo said.
Apart from Harding’s health, one question might be why, if Backstrom was able to play had he been called upon, wasn’t he on the bench in the second period? And if he was able to play, why didn’t Yeo use him at some point after using Kuemper for at least one shift, especially after allowing a bad goal?
It was a curious situation to be sure, and one that makes the Wild’s prospects of coming back in the series even more daunting.
“You can’t worry about those things," Yeo said. "You take what’s given to you, and you put your head down and you get back to work."
Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said the playoffs are often a time when strange things happen.
“I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in the playoffs," he said. "You’ve got to predict the unpredictable. Things happen and you’ve just got to roll with it. Things change so quickly and you’ve got to be adaptable."
That is the harsh reality for the Minnesota Wild.