ST. PAUL, Minn. – Josh Harding spent last season rehabilitating two torn ligaments in his right knee, all the while envisioning how his first victory would develop when he returned to the ice.
A 1-0 shutout against the mighty Detroit Red Wings at home? That seemed like a stretch, even to Harding.
Harding made 36 saves and Dany Heatley scored to lift the Minnesota Wild to a 1-0 victory over the slumping Red Wings on Saturday night, giving the backup goaltender his first win since March 21, 2010.
“I didn’t really think about playing Detroit twice and getting three out of four points,” said Harding, who recorded his fifth career shutout.
Jimmy Howard made 19 saves for the Red Wings, who have lost four games in a row after a 5-0 start.
Heatley’s goal was his third of the season for the Wild, who overcame a 36-20 deficit in shots thanks to Harding’s steady play in net.
Niklas Backstrom’s backup has made only two starts for the Wild this season. Both of them have come at home, and Harding has stopped 74 of the 77 shots he’s faced. He had 38 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit two weeks ago.
“It’s a great feeling,” Harding said. “It makes you know that all that hard work paid off.”
Heatley got the Wild on the board by doing just what they acquired him to do. He corralled a tipped puck just ahead of Minnesota’s blue line, burst down the boards and zipped a wrist shot from Howard’s left over the goalie’s right shoulder, just catching the upper right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
The Red Wings jumped out of the gates when the season began, winning five in a row as they try to rebound from two straight second-round exits in the post-season at the hands of the San Jose Sharks. But they’ve cooled off quite a bit since then, losing to the Capitals, Blue Jackets and Sharks before facing the Wild.
Howard got the start in goal on a back-to-back because Ty Conklin has been struggling and coach Mike Babcock couldn’t afford to see if he has snapped out of his funk yet. Conklin has allowed 10 goals in his past two starts.
Babcock thought his veteran-laden team was slipping into cruise control recently and he worried about how it would approach a game against a club that is off to a slow start under new coach Mike Yeo.
“We played way better (the last two nights),” Babcock said. “We’re not scoring easy. We’re not scoring at all. We haven’t all played where we feel like we got the feel. And they’re good players, they’re going to get that because there’s no way we can suddenly be a team that can’t score. So to me, just keep working, keep doing good things and good things will happen.”
On the second night of the back-to-back, the Red Wings looked a little sluggish early. They caught a break when officials overturned a goal by Wild right wing Nick Johnson midway through the first period, ruling that he kicked in a rebound.
Down 1-0, the Red Wings were given a four-minute power play after Devin Setoguchi bloodied Todd Bertuzzi with a high stick. But Pavel Datsyuk took a hooking penalty less than a minute later to give the Wild two minutes of 4-on-4 in the middle of the stretch.
The Wild escaped it unscathed, thanks to a sprawling save from Harding, who was outstanding throughout the game, and a missed chance by Pavel Datsyuk right in front.
The Red Wings may be scuffling lately, but they still pack quite a punch, and Harding withstood plenty of them on Saturday night.
“We had a lot of chances,” Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Kind of like, I’m used to saying this answer right now … we’re creating but we can’t really score goals. You know it’s frustrating. I think we’re doing a lot of good things, but we don’t get rewarded with goals and wins.”
NOTES: Wild LW Guillaume Latendresse continues to look a step or two slow. He spent last season recovering from sports hernia and hip surgery and tweaked his groin earlier this season. He took two penalties and failed to get a shot or pass off on a 2-on-1 break in the first period. … The Red Wings placed LW Fabian Brunnstrom on waivers. … Yeo praised the play of his four young defencemen—Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser, who was called up from Houston on Saturday to fill in for the injured Greg Zanon. “Tosee four young kids in there doing that against the Detroit Red Wings, for me it’s a huge story,” Yeo said.