By Michael Russo
Wild suffered a 2-1 shootout loss tonight here in Calgary, and to make matters worse, its plane is on the fritz and is about to board a bus for a three-hour hike up to Edmonton. So the team could have dead legs tomorrow night.
Bad news first: Goalie Niklas Backstrom sustained a “lower body” injury in the first period. No other information supplied. “Goalie of the future” Josh Harding came on in relief at the start of the second period, and was superb, stopping 21 of 22 shots before Jarome Iginla wired a wrist shot for the shootout winner. … Also Marian Gaborik took a Pavol Demitra shot off the left foot in the second period. He returned, but he was limping badly after the game.
Good news: Assistant GM Tom Lynn was frantically trying to wake up Manny Fernandez for him to get on a morning flight to Edmonton. Fernandez has been out since Jan. 30 with a sprained knee (Backstrom was 8-2-1 in relief). While there’s no way Fernandez will start Thursday’s game, he’ll be able to practice with the team Friday and Saturday in Vancouver and could be a possibility for Sunday’s game. Miroslav Kopriva will be recalled to back up Harding against Edmonton.
“Manny’s ready,” coach Jacques Lemaire said.
On the game, the Wild played a strong, tight-checking game in a tough arena, and collapsed into a tight box around Harding, who had played 20 minutes in the last month, to protect him.
“Played good. Played good. I thought the whole game, everything in the game, we played good,” Lemaire said of the team.
Harding found out midway through the first intermission that he was going in. It’s unclear when Backstrom got hurt, but he played the entire first period and stopped the five shots sent at him.
“My heart probably dropped about 10 feet, but I went out there and did a pretty good job,” said Harding, who made 21 saves and was beaten by Robyn Regehr’s tying goal with 4:31 left in regulation. Demitra had scored 1:50 into the third period on a 5-on-3 to snap a scoreless tie.
Harding, 22, had played in the Saddledome many times playing for Brandon and Regina in the Western Hockey League, but he said, “There were a couple more people in the stands. When they all got on their feet, every hair on my body was standing up.”
On Iginla’s shootout wrister, Harding said, “That guy had me thinking. I didn’t know what he was going to do. He’s one of the most talented guys in the league. For him to score in the shootout, it softens the blow a little bit. Hopefully we can come back tomorrow and win.”
That was Calgary’s first shootout win of the season. The Wild fell to 10-5. Demitra was denied by Miikka Kiprusoff’s right pad, Mikko Koivu lost the puck and Kiprusoff stretched his left pad all the way to the post to stop Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s attempted spin-o-rama. Petteri Nummelin, 6 for 6 in shootouts, was scratched.
The Wild, maybe scared by Dominic Moore’s acquisition, won 35 of 57 draws.
The Wild fell to 0-7-2 in Calgary since Nov. 7, 2003.