As we sit here and try to digest the Game 1 loss Tuesday night, one of the positives for Minnesota, was the play of goalie Josh Harding. Harding was quickly sprung into the starting lineup late in warmups Tuesday night when Niklas Backstrom went down with a lower body injury. Harding went on to make 35 saves in the team's 2-1 loss.
The fact is, Harding played so well in Game 1, he earned the right to start on Friday night. He made some great saves, his rebound control was fantastic, he didn't cough up the puck when he played it (watch the Blues GWG last night), and he gave his team a chance to win the game. That is what you want from your starting goaltender, especially in the playoffs.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a big key to a long prosperous playoff run is having a hot goalie. Last year, Jonathan Quick lost 4 games all postseason and won the Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP). The year before, Tim Thomas lead the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup since 1972, while winning the Conn Smythe as well. In the 2003 playoffs, the Wild rode the hot streaks of Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson all the way to the conference finals, where they were stumped by an even hotter goalie, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Clearly, you need to stay with the hot hand,. Playoff series often come down to the better goalie (for reference on how a goalie does not win you a series, see Marc-Andre Fleury vs Ilya Bryzgalov in last year's playoffs).
Mike Yeo has all the faith in the world in Backstrom. Backstrom started the last 27 games, including four back to backs, to finish the regular season. Backstrom's injury looked pretty bad, but he was only listed as day to day on the injury report. So even if Backstrom can go on Friday night, Yeo needs to send Josh Harding out to start the game. His Game 1 performance was just too good to not start again.
A big deal was made about Harding's performance last night, considering the season he has been through. But as said many times, he just wants to be seen as a hockey player, and part of the team. Given the performance he just put on, you would think he has definitely earned that right.
So putting all the stuff about Harding and his condition aside, the correct hockey move would be to start him in Game 2. You just have to. He earned it. It can't get any simpler than that.
In the playoffs, its all about riding that hot goalie. Because that hot goalie, can take you a long way...