The Chicago Blackhawks lead the series with the Minnesota Wild 2-0, which is exactly what most people would have expected at this point in the playoffs. But getting there has been much more challenging than anticipated thanks in a large part to backup goaltender Josh Harding.
Starting Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom played in 44 regular season games but was injured during warm ups minutes before Game One began. Backup goalie Harding stepped in for the first time since January after playing in only 4 of 48 games last season with the Wild. Harding had taken a leave of absence while adjusting to medication for multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease which affects muscle movement among other symptoms. In Game One, Harding made 35 saves on 37 shots with .946 SV% and 43 saves on 47 shots with a .915 SV% in Game Two. His stellar first performance showed exactly how he is dealing with his situation personally and professionally.
One of the greatest things about sports is the courage on display in seemingly down-and-out situations. The perseverance of injured players can inspire fans, teammates, and opponents. Harding’s opponents in round one of playoffs are no exception and responded to his and his teammates’ performance in the first two games of the series.
While giving interviews between game 1 and 2, several Blackhawks players commented on Harding’s situation and performance. Captain Jonathan Toews acknowledged that Harding doesn’t want sympathy from fans, teammates, and especially opponents, so he doesn’t give him that. Toews shows his respect for Harding by crediting the goaltender’s strong performance to hard work and taking responsibility on his shoulders when his team needed him. Patrick Sharp admires Harding calling him an inspiration to persevere through his own injuries.
Corey Crawford especially appreciated how Harding came in as a player in an unexpected situation, coming into the game cold and setting the tone for his teammates. The Wild rallied around him and together helped frustrate the Blackhawks offensively making them battle for everything. That’s a mark of a good goaltender, no matter what.
Others, like Andrew Shaw and Joel Quenneville, agreed with Crawford that Harding’s strong performance shifted their attention very quickly from admiration to the task at hand. They talked strategy for beating a solid goalie without even mentioning Harding’s condition, because at the end of the day, they need to put pucks in the net no matter who’s there. That task proved challenging, especially in Game One.
In short, the Blackhawks are treating Harding like any other top goaltender. Some see his story as inspirational, but when it comes to the game, they know he’s dangerous and how his team responds to him is dangerous. The Blackhawks have to work just as hard as they would against any other top goaltender in the league, and that’s probably the most inspiring thing about it all.
What are some of your favorite hockey perseverance stories?