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Updated: January 21st, 2013 12:14am
Myers: Battling disease, Josh Harding's presence alone inspiring Wild

Myers: Battling disease, Josh Harding's presence alone inspiring Wild

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In some ways, nothing was different for Josh Harding and the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, when Harding's seventh career shutout fueled the Wild's 1-0 win over the Dallas Stars.

In some ways, everything was different.

The Wild winning a slogging, defensive battle behind solid play from a goalie is nothing foreign to fans who have watched this team since it was born out of defense in 2000. And shutouts are nothing new for Harding, who had two of them last season.

But winning a game 1-0 on a goal by Zach Parise -- his first in a Wild uniform -- and getting a shutout from a goalie who revealed during the NHL lockout he's battling multiple sclerosis was something never, ever seen around these parts.

"It's been a tough couple months here, and this made it all worth it," Harding said, his voice catching just slightly with the emotion of the moment.

He made 24 saves -- including a stop of Dallas forward Ray Whitney, who broke in alone short-handed with 70 seconds to play. And he seemed calm doing it.

Internally, Harding said he felt normal, but he knows that could change as his physical battle continues.

"Everything went well (Sunday)," Harding said, after thanking his doctors and every member of the Wild organization for their support and belief in him.

"I can't predict the future. I can only control what goes on day-to-day, and I'm doing everything in my power to make sure that I'm ready to go. It was just a great feeling coming out here and backstopping the team to a win."

Backup goalies usually have a limited role on a team, especially come playoff time, as NHL clubs usually want to see one guy get the bulk of the work and save the understudy for times when he's desperately needed.

But in this shortened season -- when it's a 48-game sprint to the late April finish line and stretches like this, in which the Wild play three games in four nights, are common -- Harding is likely to be called upon more and more. With that in mind, Sunday's win was hugely encouraging.

Wild coach Mike Yeo all but downplayed the shutout, noting that just seeing Harding on the ice for a NHL game was enough to provide inspiration.

"We're very happy for him. This is something that most of us cannot understand, what he's going through and what he's been through lately," Yeo said. "He's just had an amazing attitude about this and we're really happy for him."

Parise had skated with Harding during the lockout in the pickup games the idle pros had nearly every day at one rink or another. What Parise saw on Sunday, with the bright lights shining and 18,000-plus in attendance, was similar to what he's seen for months now in empty rinks with nobody watching.

"I was curious, but I wasn't nervous for him, just from skating with him," Parise said. "He's played when we've been skating at Mariucci and through these practices. He's been playing great, so I can't say I'm surprised how well he's played."

For Yeo, the bigger picture was seeing his team find a way to win a low-scoring defensive battle on a night when both teams looked gassed for much of the time.

"Good teams find a way to win," Yeo said. "Sometimes, you've got to win one-nothing and sometimes you've got to score four goals. Every night is different, every night is unique. But the guys did what they had to do (Sunday) for sure."

On Saturday night, for the fans, just having NHL hockey back was a victory, and a win over the Avalanche was the bonus.

On Sunday, having Harding on the ice, stopping pucks was a victory in itself. Another win, and the fact that Harding stopped every puck, was the amazing part.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
In this story: Josh Harding, Zach Parise, Mike Yeo
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